Best Laid Plans

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Chapter 2

My alarm clock blares One Headlight, a song by the 1990s band, The Wallflowers, and I slowly sit up in bed. I glance at the time and realize I must have been hitting snooze for the past hour and a half. Oh no, no, no! I’m so late! I catapult myself out of my bed. My head feels like it was pulverized by a bulldozer. What should have been nothing more than a drink or two for happy hour, turned into binge drinking and closing down the bars. I had the best of intentions of calling it an early night, but freaking Cora kept feeding me drink after drink and once I start, I just can’t stop. Murky memories of the night fog my already clouded mind. My legs feel like a jelly fish. Did I dance? I hope not, I’m the world’s worst dancer with zero coordination. Part of me feels like there was definitely dancing involved.

I glance down and notice my trail of crumpled clothes on the floor. My signal to myself that when I got home last night, I didn’t care about anything but my bed. I hastily comb the knots out of my hair and throw the mess into a bun on my head, brush my teeth and wash my face. No time to try adding makeup. Oh well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m only going to be working an adoption event at the animal shelter where I volunteer. I feel awful about being late, I had signed up to work the booth that gives away the free gifts with each adoption. I slice a bagel and add cream cheese then bolt out the door, practically sprinting to my car. The exercise and brisk morning air does not help my raging headache. While I drive to the animal shelter, I choke down my bagel.

“Ellie, I’m so sorry!” I say as I rush to take my seat at the table. I’m so lucky that Ellie is such an understanding woman. I can see a quick glimpse of concern in her eyes when she takes in my appearance, but she tells me not to worry about it and she is super glad I’m okay. Ellie comes from Native American heritage, which is without a doubt where her perfect bone structure came from. She has unblemished brown skin, nearly black waist length hair and hazel eyes. Her signature hairstyle is a messy bun sitting on top of her head. Ellie doesn’t wear makeup, because she doesn’t need it. She once told me that on the rare occasions when she does wear makeup, she remains acutely aware that it is on her face.

“So far, we’ve adopted out five dogs, three cats, and one bunny,” Ellie says with the biggest smile. That’s what I love about her. She is always happy and such a positive woman. She loves nothing more than the shelter animals and giving back to the community. I wish I was half the woman she is, which is why I look to her as a mentor. Ellie actually got me started in volunteering at the animal shelter. We met four years ago in community college. Ellie was a full course load ahead of me and gearing up for her transfer to UC Berkeley. We kept in touch over the years and I visited her once. She made sure to take me on the BART train to the city. San Francisco was beautiful, but I remember the hills we had to walk were quite sobering. We walked all over the city and hiked the serene trails. That was one of the best weekends of my life.

I notice Ellie’s smile shining at me and it clicks that I need to acknowledge this remarkable news. My brain seems to have abandoned me this morning. “That’s so great! I’m so happy to hear that! Can I see the list of dogs adopted out?” Ellie hands me the list and I am relieved to see that my favorite dog is still at the shelter.

I feel guilty that I had a sense of relief, but at the same time, I love him and hope to adopt him myself. The apartment I currently live in does not allow pets, well, they allow cats, just not dogs. When I first signed my lease, I was completely fine with that rule. At the time, I hadn’t met Ludo yet. When I started volunteering at the shelter, I started to toy with the idea of getting a dog, but once I met Ludo my mind was made up. And it wasn’t just because he shared a name with my favorite character in an obscure 80s cult film classic. Ludo was everything I could ever hope for in a dog. He caught my eye immediately. His reddish-brown fur, black muzzle, white just above his nose that ends between his eyes, and cheeks for days. His eyes full of love and wisdom and the wrinkles on his forehead create the illusion of eyebrows raised in worry. His ears remain long and floppy, not cropped, which frame his innocent, puppy-like face. The most beautiful boxer I have ever seen. I just have to wait a few more weeks for my lease to be up in May. It’s too long of a wait to put Ludo on hold, so I need to bide my time.

“I’m going to take a quick walk and say hi to the dogs,” I hop up and Ellie gives a slight nod and smile that lets me know she approves.

As I walk down the row of cages, I make certain that I stop and say hi to all the dogs. We have Hachi, a husky that came in as a stray. Huskies have the tendency to run when they sense freedom, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened with this one. He is a sweetie; someone must be missing him. I see Bowie, an American pit bull terrier mix with chow chow. He’s a puppy so he will undoubtedly find a home today. Then there’s Shelby, an adorable ball of fluff. We believe she is an akita, though she doesn’t act like one.

Oh, but at the end of the row, there’s my Ludo. He jumps on the cage door and greets me with kisses as I stick my hand between the bars. “Such a good boy!” I tell him as he presses his body up against the cage for me to pet him.

“Hello, do you work here? Your shirt says volunteer, so I’m taking a guess.”

I turn around and our eyes meet. I feel electricity course through my body. This man has striking blue eyes, tan skin and dark hair. As I take in how handsome he is, I realize I haven’t responded.

“Uh-yeye- yes, I do, I am a volunteer,” I stammer. Shoot, that was awkward.

“Awesome, so I was right! I’m hoping to take this big guy out and see if we are on the same wavelength. I made my rounds and I can’t help but be drawn back to him,” the handsome stranger points to Ludo.

“Ludo? Er-you want Ludo?” I try to control the volume of my voice. He’s got to be kidding me.

“Yep, he’s the one. Unless there’s an issue? Behavioral maybe? Oh no! Wait, don’t tell me he was already adopted? I was only gone for a minute, I-” he stops talking when we make eye contact.

I thought briefly that I can tell him yes, Ludo has been adopted, but my heart wrenches in my chest when I tell the handsome stranger, “No, I apologize, he has not been adopted. I can go get a leash and key for the cage, just give me a moment.”

As I walk back with the key and leash, I will myself not to cry. I smile politely, unlock the cage, leash Ludo, and hand him over to the handsome stranger. I watch as they walk to the grass field and Ludo seems very happy. Ludo is three years old and still acts like a puppy. I struggle inwardly with myself as I observe this man with Ludo, my Ludo. They seem to be hitting it off and Ludo is wagging his butt around with pure joy. His tail was docked at some point by his previous family, and the sight of Ludo’s tushy wagging always makes me laugh.

I resign myself back to the adoption gift table. Ellie finishes up with an adoption and waves me over. “We just adopted three more adopted! One couple took home two cats, Mitzy and

Cashmere,” Ellie smiles brightly. Being around Ellie is giving me a secondhand high of delight. I swear, sometimes it seems as though Ellie has some magical powers that control the moods of those around her. When she’s happy, I’m happy, when she cries, I cry.

I smile at Ellie, “That’s wonderful! I am so proud of you and how you organized such a fabulous, successful event,” and I give Ellie a big hug. Just as I release her, I sense someone behind me. I turn around and catch my breath.

“I’ve decided I am not leaving this guy here; I’m taking him home with me,” the handsome stranger beams.

“Aww, you have excellent taste! You sure did choose a great one!” Ellie declares, but I can see her glance at me for a reaction. I know Ellie is looking for reassurance on this; she knows how much I love Ludo. I flash her a smile and gesture that it’s okay. Ellie hands the handsome stranger a clipboard with adoption paperwork. Just then, another volunteer runs up and asks Ellie for assistance with one of the kennels. “Lucy, would you mind handling Ludo’s adoption? I’ll be right back.” I watch as Ellie speeds off towards the kennels. That timing was a little too convenient, if you ask me. Part of me wonders if Ellie planned to leave me alone with this handsome stranger, but another part of me knows Ellie would never set me up like that.

“So, Lucy, is it?” smiles the handsome stranger.

“Yes, sir, it is!” Sir? Why did I just say that? I cringe at my formal response. Suddenly, Cora’s voice is in my head, “He’s hot, Luce. Get his name, don’t be a weirdo. You’re not getting any younger.” I straighten up and do my best to sound casual, “Now that you know my name, can I ask for yours?”

“It’s only fair,” he winks, “I’m Dominic, as you can see on my paperwork.” He hands me the paperwork and I look it over. Dominic Walker, 32 years old, single-family home with a yard.

He seems like he has his life together, he’s probably married with ten children.

“It’s nice to officially meet you, Dominic. You’re very lucky to be taking Ludo home with you, he’s a very special boy.” I get down to Ludo’s level and pet his head with both my hands. Ludo licks my mouth, “Ew, gross, Ludo!” I laugh, “As you can see, he’s the sweetest and most gentle dog. If you have children at home, he will love them unconditionally and protect them with his life.”

“No children, it’s just me, myself and I, which is why I came here seeking a companion. Ludo seems like he will be able to keep up with me on the hiking trails. I spend most of my

weekends on the trails and camping,” Dominic explains.

I might be a little too focused on the fact that he basically just told me he is single. It probably doesn’t make a difference, a guy like Dominic would never be interested in a girl like me. He probably wants someone more like Cora, those handsome types usually do. Besides, I could never date a guy like him. They’re too good-looking for their own good. Women throw themselves at men like him. He has so many options, he probably cheated on his last girlfriend and that’s why he’s single. Girlfriend might be a stretch. Guys like him never settle down, I reason to myself.

Dominic’s gaze lingers on me a bit longer than my comfort level permits and I feel my cheeks begin to blush. “It seems like you and Ludo have a strong bond, and I’m wondering if you’d be interested in meeting up one of these days at the dog park? I’m interested in Ludo’s story, but right now I have to run. I have to pick up my nephew from a playdate and introduce the two. They’re going to be best friends,” Dominic bends to pet Ludo’s head and looks at me for a response.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely, I would love to,” glancing at his paperwork. “I have your number here, I’ll send you a text later so you can have my number,” I felt like that was a Cora move. Not revealing too much helps retain the control over the situation. Cora always tells me that the woman holds the power.

“I look forward to it!” and I watch as the love of my life walks away with a man who was just a handsome stranger thirty minutes ago. Now, he’s a potential love interest. Maybe. I haven’t quite decided on him, but I definitely want to see Ludo again.

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