BENNETT - Part 2 of the HMB Doggie Series

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Chapter 8

I’m sitting on the daybed with Bennett’s head in my lap, admiring my painting. I just finished it and I’m extremely pleased with what I’ve created. It kind of looks like a koi pond, with greenish-blue water and streaks of color dancing across the canvas. It has a Monet quality that I didn’t think I was capable of.

I took a picture of it and sent it to Betsy, the owner of the little art gallery downtown. She was ecstatic and commanded me to make more paintings just like this one, that in a month she wants to display my artwork and that she see’s me making a pretty penny with these. I’m slightly tickled pink by that.

I’m certainly not hurting for money since that drunk asshole paid out the nose. And I already had a nice little nest-egg built up from the ballet company I danced for. It also helped that I lived frugally. It’s more just my pride inflating knowing I will be making money again. I didn’t realize how much I missed working. I texted Kim the good news, adding that I may not be available to work her shop anymore. She said thank God.

The rain has continued through the whole day and into the evening. I just now realize how hungry I am, so Bennett and I head to the kitchen to prepare some dinner.

A knock at the door startles me and Bennett let’s off a single “woof.” I open it to find a soaked Kim.

“Jesus, it’s coming down out here!” She elbows her way past me, removing her rain boots and coat.

“So what are you doing out in it, silly?” I close the door behind her. She kneels down to give Bennett some kisses.

“Delivering you dinner, naturally,” She hands me a large paper bag. I peek inside and feel my mouth start to water. Sushi…perfect.

“I was closing the shop and decided a celebration is in order. Not to mention girl time. And it’s not girl time without sushi.”

“Sounds good to me,” I say as I walk to the kitchen and start unloading the containers. There’s enough food here to feed an army.

“So any news on stalker boy?” She grabs two plates and pulls out some chopsticks, which we won’t use because they’re a pain. Then she proceeds to pull a bottle of wine from my fridge and open it. I love the fact that this is her home just as much as mine.

“Actually, I finally got some action on the nanny cam this morning. And he showed up later today!” We forgo the dining room and instead head to the living room to eat dinner in front of the fire. I tell her everything, from him throwing rocks at my house to me giving him the finger. She listens intently and her face doesn’t give anything away.

“Well,” she says, taking a sip of wine and stuffing another roll into her mouth, “It pisses me off to no end that he’s vandalizing your house. And while it was stupid to provoke him, at least it wasn’t the stupidest thing you’ve done with regards to this guy,” I’m never going to live down that chase. She pauses and thinks as she chews. “Are you absolutely positive this is about the woman in your dreams and not you?”

I sit back and belch loudly, “No. I’m not 100 percent positive of anything. I do think it’s a little coincidental that I have this dream of this chick in my house and then suddenly he shows up,” I stuff a roll in my mouth, “Maybe he killed her and buried her here and now he’s back to claim the body so I don’t find her?” It sounds ridiculous, even to my ears. I can tell Kim agrees by the skeptical look she gives me.

“Perhaps,” she placates, “But doubtful. Murders in El Granada aren’t exactly common and I know I would have heard something if some chick was offed.”

“Maybe it happened years ago,” I say mysteriously.

She rolls her eyes, “You need to get laid. This no-sex thing is fogging your brain. OH! Which reminds me…how was your date with that hottie Keith?!” I’d given her a few details via text about our date but I didn’t go into any real depth.

“It was fantastic. There are no words to describe this guy. Sure, he’s gorgeous. But he’s also sweet! I wasn’t expecting that. Usually men like him are all cocky dicks. But he’s not…I mean, he’s cocky, but not in an annoying way. He’s smooth, but he’s also real. I told him I wanted to use him to get out of my dating slump and he all but jumped on the table and started clapping like five year old.”

“So you think this could go somewhere?” Hope shines in her eyes.

“I do. Very much so. I just don’t want to get too excited in case he has some major flaw,” I laugh, “Although, given the hot mess I am I shouldn’t be too picky.”

“Good God, Fu, you’re not a hot mess. You’ve had a shitty year but things are already turning around. You have this house,” she gestures all around her, “You have Bennett,” she scratches behind his floppy ear for effect, “You have me,” she bats her eyes, “And now you have a gallery gig. I’d say that’s pulling it together nicely.”

“When you put it like that…” I wink and we clink glasses. After a generous sip I say, “He actually offered to keep watch over the house, since he lives just up the street. He also said he’d dig up dirt on this place to see if anything unusual has happened over the years.”

Kim nods her approval, “I’m liking this guy more and more,” she pauses, “But wouldn’t Mr. Trant have been obligated to tell you if any kind of tragedy happened here? Something like full disclosure, or whatever?”

“Oh shit! You’re right!” I spring off the couch and run to grab my laptop. I bring it back, stick another roll in my mouth, and shoot off a quick email to Mr. Trant, asking about this full disclosure business. “You are brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because you’re head’s broken?”

I laugh and slap her arm. It’s true though. I’m just not as quick on the uptake as I used to be. But it’s getting better…at least that’s what I tell myself.

I wake up to my cellphone blaring into my ear. Bennett grumbles from his spot beside me.

“My thoughts exactly, sweetie,” I moan as I roll over and grab my phone off the nightstand. I should really start charging this thing in the kitchen. I don’t look at the caller ID as I swipe the screen and mumble, “What do you want?”

A deep chuckle vibrates my eardrum, “I take it you’re not a morning person?” Keith asks playfully.

“It’s so early,” I whine.

“It’s nine-thirty, lazy bones. The morning is practically over.”

“I was up late with Kim.”

“And who’s fault is that?” he teases.

“Did you call just to annoy me?” I grumble.

He laughs, “Actually I was calling to see what you were doing tonight…I know we made plans for Thursday but I didn’t really feel like waiting that long.”

Despite my grogginess, my heart flutters happily.

I can’t help the huge yawn as I say, “I think I can manage that.”

“Great!” His smile is absolutely audible and I grin like an idiot because it’s so cute.

“Come over after work and I’ll cook you dinner,” I say, rolling onto my back and stretching languidly. No, I’m not the best cook, but I have been dappling with it since I moved in and so far I haven’t poisoned myself so I think Keith will appreciate the effort.

“Sounds perfect,” his voice drops to throaty and sexy, “So…you’re in bed right now? In your nightgown?”

“Don’t even. See you tonight.” We both chuckle as I switch off my phone.

Looks like I’m cleaning house today instead of painting.

The floor is spotless. The bathrooms are sparkling and there’s not a speck of dust in sight. I had to empty out the vacuum twice for all the hair I sucked up. Bennett is the best dog in the world but, Jesus, does he shed. I found dog hair in my medicine cabinet…how that even happened is beyond me.

I’m showered, my legs and armpits are shaved and even though I’m not anticipating getting laid tonight (it is only the second date) I paid to have my lady-parts waxed. Better safe then sorry.

Now I’m standing at the stove, attempting seasoned couscous, baked chicken breasts and sautéed vegetables. See how healthy I am?! Although I’m eyeing my instant macaroni and cheese longingly from its perch in the open cupboard. It’s my weakness. Bennett is laying across the kitchen floor, not begging but never taking his eyes off me in case I drop a tasty morsel on the floor.

I check the time. Keith should be here soon so I drop the heat on the vegetables and turn on some soft jazz from the stereo in the living room. I have a fire going as well but I light a few candles around the house just to make a good impression. I’ve just lit the last candle when the doorbell rings.

I’m already smiling as I open it and see Keith with one hand on the doorjamb and one behind his back. He gives me a devastatingly handsome smile as he flourishes a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers at me. I can’t help but appreciate that he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t just go for the easy red rose. His flower choices are happy and that makes me happy.

“These are beautiful. Thank you,” I say as I step aside to let him in.

“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady,” his eyes dance at me as he leans in and places a soft kiss on my lips. Yeah…I’ll be needing more of that later. A lot more. “Dinner smells amazing, Fu. I didn’t know you could cook.” He takes off his jacket and hangs it on the coat rack by the door. It’s stupid, but I take a second to appreciate how good his coat looks hanging next to mine. Silly, I know, but something about it gives me the warm fuzzies.

“I’ll be honest with you and say that up until I moved here I wasn’t much of a cook. It was hard living with three other women,” we head into the kitchen, “But I find I actually really enjoy it. And so long as I don’t stray from the recipe I can’t screw it up too bad, right?”

“I don’t know,” Keith leans against the counter, “My grandma once made a rum cake that just about gave me cirrhosis. She swore up and down she followed the recipe.”

We chitchat while the vegetables finish sautéing. I order him to go sit at the table. I want to properly serve him. He worked all day, after all. All I did was battle dog hair.

I serve us up each a generous plate. I open a bottle of white wine and pour us both a modest glass. No use liquoring the poor guy up. I do all this while Keith just sits at the table, his head resting on his hands and a small smile on his lips as he watches me like I’m the only thing in the room. Bennett does this as well, except I reckon his intentions are a lot more pure then Keith’s. Either way, I like having all eyes on me (I was a performer, what can I say?) and I make a point to swagger a little.

When I sit Keith finally speaks, “I can tell you were a ballerina,” his tone is appreciative, “You move like a gazelle.”

“Which is ironic because I’m the only one I know who’s broken her arm simply by tripping. I stub my toe at least once a day and don’t even get me started on how many poles I’ve walked into on the street.”

He barks out a laugh, “The true you is starting to emerge…I like it.”

We dig into dinner and I’m proud at how it turned out. The couscous is seasoned just enough, the chicken is juicy and the vegetables are the perfect amount of tender. Keith complements me profusely, saying that for someone who doesn’t cook I sure catch on quickly enough. My ego inflates slightly.

I tell him about the gallery gig and even bring my painting in to show him.

“Holy hell! That’s beautiful! You did that yesterday?” His eyes are round with surprise.

“Yup. It literally took all day, but I’m really happy with it. Betsy was very excited.” I smile proudly.

“Did you paint anything today?” I’m loving his interest in me.

“No, I didn’t have time. I cleaned the house so you wouldn’t get covered in dog hair and I had, ah,” I cough, “A few appointments to run.”

“What kind of appointments?”

“Just…appointments,” I smile innocently.

“You are a wily minx, Ms. Lacy.” We make eyes at each other from across the small table. I don’t even stop the blush that colors my cheeks.

Change of topic. Now. “So how was work?” Dear God, I sound like a Stepford Wife.

His eyes tell me our previous conversation is not over, “Work was work. It’s numbers.” Keith is an accountant, a profession that just doesn’t seem to jive with his godly good looks and easy demeanor. I always pictured accountants as stodgy, fat and boring as hell. I know who I’m taking my taxes to this year.

“You don’t seem too enthused about your job,” I say gently.

He shrugs, “I’ve always been good with numbers. I was the only basketball player in high school to ever be in the math club.” I bite my lips together to keep from smiling. “Yes, I know, I know. I’m a geek. It’s just,” he looks away speculatively, “When I run numbers, there’s always a formula to follow. I like how everything has it’s own place and purpose. The money is good and I live a good life because of it.” He lets out a breath, “I don’t know…recently, or more accurately when Sally left me, I’ve been…bored. Math used to calm me down…it doesn’t anymore.”

“Maybe you just need a little more excitement in your life,” I offer up none-too-helpfully.

“Why do you think I asked you out? You have trouble written all over you.” He cocks a grin at me.

“I think you’re confusing trouble with overtly dysfunctional,” I say dryly. This gets the laugh I was hoping for.

I’ve basically cleaned my plate by now. I lay it on the floor so Bennett can begin phase one of the dishes. His big tongue licks the plate clean and when he’s finished he drifts over to Keith, sits his butt down and waits.

“Bennett get’s the crumbs, huh?” Keith follows suit and watches with amusement as Bennett works his slobbery magic.

“Puppy slobber is easier to rinse off then crusty scraps of food. Win win,” I say with a wink, “Feel free to cozy up on the couch. I’m just gonna rinse out the dishes.”

“Like hell you are!” Keith is out of his chair in a heartbeat and gently easing me back into mine. “You cooked. The cook shouldn’t have to do the dishes as well. Sit. Relax.” He pours me more wine and starts in on the pots and pans. “Dish soap?” He asks from over his shoulder.

It takes me a second to respond, since I’m still reeling from his thoughtful gesture. “Uh…underneath the sink.”

I watch him clean up my kitchen and I think I fall just a little more head over heels. No guy I ever dated offered to do the dishes. Not one. Not that I cooked a lot back then but even still, the few times I went out of my way to do so they never offered. What have I been missing all these years?

Keith is done with the dishes in no time and then we head to the couch. Bennett sits on the floor next to me and I begin our nightly scratch session with one hand and hold my wineglass with the other. I sit Indian style, facing Keith and he does the same. The fire crackles to our right and I can’t stop the feeling of joy growing in my chest. This is what I want, always.

“So tell me…anything new from the stalker?”

I get him up to speed with everything that transpired over the past few days. His features grow dark with rage as I tell him about the rock. He’s not exactly pleased I provoked the guy but he appreciates my spunk. I tell him about my latest dream and how I feel the whole situation is going to come to a head in the near future.

“If I find this guy I’m ripping his balls off,” Keith seethes, “But on that same note, I did some research on your house.”

I sit forward expectantly, silently praying something came up.

“Not much in recent years but there were a few things from a long time ago. So the last owner of this house was just your typical grandma. Retired school teacher, mother, widow…nothing extraordinary. She lived here for forty years,” he sips his wine, “So I started digging further back and as it turns out the original owner, the one who built this place, his wife was actually killed in a boating accident.”

This surprises me and it shows, “A boating accident?”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s not totally uncommon around here but I thought it might be useful information. Her body was never found. Oh and get this!? She was rumored to be a witch.”

“A witch?” I look skeptically at him, “The original owner of this house was a witch who died in a boating accident?”

“Can’t make this shit up,” he laughs, “I know it sounds ridiculous but a buddy of mine who works for the city let me dig around the archives on Half Moon Bay and that’s what I found.” He gets off the couch and goes to his jacket. He pulls out an envelope from the inside pocket, walks over and hands it to me, “I figured you’d want to read it yourself.” He kisses my forehead as he resumes his spot on the couch.

“Oh God, that reminds me!” I give Bennett’s nose a kiss as I leap off the couch and run for my computer. I haven’t checked my email all day, completely forgetting about my message to Mr. Trant last night. I wake my computer up, log in and wait impatiently for everything to load. I feel Keith walk into the room and stand behind me. “I sent an email to my realtor last night asking about full disclosure stuff…just want to see if he got back to me.”

My email loads and, sure enough, there’s an email from Mr. Trant describing everything Keith just told me, minus the witch part.

“So how did you find out about the rumor that this lady was a witch?” I ask as we make our way back to the living room.

“Another friend of mine, his family has lived here for two generations. We were having a beer the other night and I happened to mention your house. He knew it the second I described it. I guess his parents knew her growing up, said she was very nice but a little…off. Rumored to have put a protective spell on the house so anyone who wanted to do her or her husband harm couldn’t enter onto the property…who know’s if that true.”

The smile drops from his face when he looks at mine.

“Oh my God,” I whisper.

“What is it?” His fingertips brush a stray hair from my face.

“The man…on the nanny cam. He couldn’t come onto the property.”

“What?” His voice jumps up an octave.

“He walked up to the house but then stopped mid-step right at my walkway. Like he hit a wall. Then he just paced back and forth. Kinda like the animals do at the zoo.”

“Holy shit,” he whispers, “So it’s true then. No one can come onto the property with the intention of harm.” He takes a huge breath. “That’s incredible.”

My mouth has gone unusually dry and I’m trying not to get tunnel vision. “It’s incredible, all right. But that means that his guy has nothing to do with the lady in my dreams.” It’s there, on the cusp, waiting for me to figure it out. But my brain won’t allow it, at least not yet.

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