Best Laid Plans

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Chapter 5

Every Thursday night I head straight from work to the animal shelter. Ellie greets me with a huge smile when I walk in. Her happiness fills my soul. I will never understand why she is still single. She’s a catch and any man would be lucky to have her.

“Hi Lucy! I have the total numbers from Saturday’s adoption event. Sixty-five animals found their forever homes. I am in total disbelief and elation!” Ellie jumps up and down in excitement.

“That’s wonderful! I am so happy!” I join Ellie in the jumping celebration. I like to jump.

“Can we please celebrate soon? Are you free for brunch on

Saturday?” Ellie anticipates a yes, but I have to burst her bubble.

“I can’t, I’m so sorry! Remember the man who adopted Ludo? Well, we got to talking and he gave me his number. We have a date on Saturday morning, he’s taking me and Ludo hiking. We have to leave early, he wants to beat the heat,” I see Ellie’s eyes light up, but I can sense there’s more going on in her mind. “That is so great! Do you mind if I ask just one question? I’m a little worried that he is a complete stranger. Did you do any kind of recon mission on this dude? Like, you’re not going on a hiking trail, who knows where, alone with a complete stranger, are you? Please don’t take my questions the wrong way, I really am excited for you. I just have a friend whose friend was nearly abducted on a date with a handsome stranger,” Ellie has obvious concern, but is still very supportive and I can understand where her concern is coming from.

Unlike when I told Cora, who rolled her eyes and just said, “Hiking? Sign of a cheap guy.” When she said that, I had a flashback of the night we met Kingsley. Cora and I were laughing about a couple sitting at the bar who appeared to be on a first date. The sheer awkwardness of their body language, it was hard to look away. I remember my eyes wandering and meeting the eyes of an attractive man facing us from the opposite side of the bar.

I immediately broke eye contact, but took a few glances back. His silver Rolex watch glinted in the bar light, his Johnnie Walker Blue Label with exactly one ice cube, and a button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, most importantly, no ring. He looked like he had come straight from work. Cora noticed me making eyes at someone and turned to take a look. Next thing I knew, he was walking over. When he got close enough, Cora grabbed the collar of his shirt and whispered something in his ear. Then, he turned and went back to the bar. I asked what she had said and she shrugged, “I just told him not to be cheap. We need drinks.” We smiled at each other.

“Earth to Lucy, hello!” Ellie waves her hand in front of my eyes.

I frown when I realize I completely zoned out. Sometimes I am a total space cadet. “Er- no, I didn’t, but I can,” I grin and pull my phone out. The beauty of dating in this day and age is that everything is readily available at your fingertips. I search his name in social media and to my dismay, nothing. Slightly alarmed at his lack of online presence, I put my phone back into my pocket. I shrug to Ellie and promise her I will be safe on Saturday and will give her all of the details of my date before I go. She can be pushy at times, but I know it’s because her heart is in the right place. After agreeing to give her access to my GPS location on my phone for Saturday and Dominic’s cell phone number in case she can’t reach me for any reason, I grab a leash and head to the kennels to walk a few dogs.

My alarm buzzes at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, but I’m already awake. Insomnia ruled my night. It started on track with me picking out a cute hiking outfit and a pair of running sneakers. I never actually go on real hikes, so I’ve never needed hiking boots. Dominic reassured me that the hike was not difficult, he wants to test Ludo’s stamina before he takes him on a difficult trail. Ellie got in my head a bit the other night, so I’m a little nervous about having Dominic pick me up from my apartment, but I told him I would meet him outside in the parking lot. I’ve already showered and threw my hair in a cute ponytail, I put on SPF tinted moisturizer and a thin layer of mascara. My hiking outfit is simple, I have black yoga leggings and a loose hanging white tank top over a neon green sports bra. I give myself a look over in the mirror and I like what I see. A rarity, but nice when it happens.

Dominic proves to be prompt when he shows up at exactly the time we planned. I rush out to greet him and Ludo in the parking lot. Dominic and Ludo are standing outside of the car when I arrive. I feel a rush of what I can only describe as electricity when I see Dominic. He’s wearing a black baseball hat, a camouflage tee, and black sweat shorts. I’m relieved when I see he too is wearing running shoes. I give him a quick scan and realize I had forgotten how gorgeous this man is. It still shocks me that he wants to spend time with me. My heart skips a beat when I see Ludo wagging his butt and tugging on the leash to see me. I rush over and he covers me with kisses.

“Careful now, I might get jealous with all the attention you’re giving Ludo,” Dominic jokes.

“Well, he is my main man, so stand in line,” I joke back. I smile as Dominic opens the car door for me and gestures for me to enter, “Why, thank you, sir. You are quite the gentleman.” I slide into the front seat and internally scold myself for using the term sir again. Gosh, I can be such a goober at times. Dominic grins and opens the back door and ushers Ludo into the car. We drive for thirty minutes to a beautiful, nearby area that hasn’t been scarred by greed and unchecked development. The green hills are covered in tall, lush trees, and the ground is blanketed with yellow wildflowers. Our entire drive is spent laughing at Ludo’s antics and Dominic describing Ludo’s first few days in his new home. Apparently, someone at the animal shelter labeled Ludo as housebroken, but Dominic learned the hard way that he’s not. My cheeks are sore from laughing so much. Right off the bat, Dominic made me feel comfortable. It almost feels like I’ve known him all my life. I wonder if he feels it, too?

Our conversation flows and everything feels right. He tells me about his ten-year old nephew, Jack. He opens up about the difficulties his sister has with raising him, Jack is on the spectrum. He explains that it makes Jack an extra special kid with unique talents and an IQ higher than most adults he knows. Jack is nonverbal, but he speaks American Sign Language. Turns out, Dominic is fluent in sign language. In my limited dating experience, I have never met a man who is as well-rounded as Dominic.

He tells me about the volunteer work he does at a local military school for at-risk youth, mostly teenagers, who voluntarily join to steer their lives in a better direction. He is a mentor and when I ask what that entails, he explains it is a one-year commitment to see his mentee through the program and check in on him after he graduates. This is his third-year mentoring and he is proud of all three of his mentees. He says he helped all three of them find their way and that even though the one-year commitment requirement was fulfilled, he continues to check in with them. Dominic exudes passion for helping others and giving back to the community. He seems unreal, but I sure am loving what I’m hearing.

Dominic mentions that he was in the Army, but retired after he served his four years. He explains that the military life just wasn’t quite right for him. He wants to find the right woman to settle down with and start a family of his own. He expresses that the military lifestyle was not what he wanted for his future family. Plus, his sister was having a tough time raising Jack on her own. Her husband had abandoned them when they first learned that Jack was on the spectrum. He ran off with a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. I honestly didn’t think those kinds of things actually happened in real life, but I guess I stand corrected. He tells me about the adventure of opening his own studio where he teaches self-defense. He says that he didn’t want his Army training to go to waste, so he mostly teaches women how to fight off attackers.

“Enough about me, I’m more interested in you. What motivated you to start volunteering at the local animal shelter?”

“My friend, Ellie, you met her at the adoption event. Fun fact, she planned the entire event. I am so proud of her. She inspires me to be a better person. I never considered giving back to my community before I met her.”

“She sounds incredible We should all be so fortunate to know someone like her. I’m willing to bet she would say the same thing about you,” Dominic gives me an honest smile and we continue our hike. The three-mile trail is a loop and dumps us back to where we had parked the car earlier. Dominic opens the car door for me and lends me his hand so I can get in.

As we drive back to civilization our conversation continues to flow. When Dominic drops me off at my apartment, he asks if he can walk me to my door. At this point, I feel comfortable and Ellie’s warning is no longer echoing in my mind.

“Wow, that was a great hike and I feel exhausted, but in a very good way. It’s the endorphins, most likely,” I exclaim.

“It really was fun, I enjoyed getting to know you better, Lucy.

Would you be interested in following up the hike with a drink later today? I know it’s last minute and you’re probably busy with your other suitors, but if you can just tell them all to back off now, that’d be great,” Dominic’s smile melted me.

“Well, I did have a date this afternoon with Mark, but I’m willing to call and cancel, maybe,” I tease.

“Mark, eh? Not sure if I should be happy you’re blowing off the chump for me or if I should meet him and tell him to back off now. I really hope you made him up, I’d hate to have to intervene.”

For a quick moment I worry he is serious and find myself convincing my brain that he’s only playing along. I shake that feeling off. I don’t know where that feeling came from. I know he is only joking and I need to put my paranoia in its place. Although, he sure is believable, he seems to have missed his calling to be an actor. I’ll have to ask him about that later.

“How about this, I’ll cancel on Mark and tell him never to call me again,” I joke. I accept Dominic’s drink invitation. “What time do you have in mind?”

He takes a brief pause and puts his left hand under his chin and rests his index finger on his cheek, “How about in an hour? Unless of course, you need more time to get ready?”

Feeling like this question is testing the water with how much maintenance I am, I smile and agree, “An hour would be sufficient.”

After he leaves and I lock my door, I run around my apartment like a crazy person trying to get ready within this unreal expectation of time I set for myself. What was I thinking? I need to wash my hair after our hike, which now means I need to blow dry it, too. I do the best I can, but oh well. He seems to be into me as a person and not in it for superficial reasons.

Dominic reports back to my apartment after an hour. I am ready and waiting for him, when he knocks on my door, I grab my purse and greet him outside.

“Shall we?” he asks as he holds his left arm out for me. I link my arm around his as he escorts me to the car. We head to a nearby bar, really its more of a pub, and Dominic lets me pick the seat. Naturally, I chose the corner booth in the back. Soon, the drinks are flowing. Dominic orders a pitcher of beer and says it impresses him that I enjoy a good beer. He finds it to be an attractive quality. I tell him how happy I am that he seems to be easy to impress. We laugh and talk for hours. The staff is circling like vultures while waiting to turn tables.

I excuse myself to the lady’s room. The lady’s room is down a dim hallway and is secluded in the back of the bar. It is quiet and feels like I am the only person in the building. I walk into the lady’s room and stop at the mirror. I give my reflection a good once over. I can see sleepiness in my eyes, which signals that I need to slow down on the beer intake. I remind myself to drink water when I get back to the table. I put my purse on the counter and touch up my lip gloss and comb through my hair. I shuffle through my purse’s contents until I find my perfume.

The scent is orange vanilla. It’s reminiscent of a creamsicle. Mmmm, I love creamsicles, especially on a hot summer day. I spritz it on my wrist and once on my neck for good measure. I give myself one last look in the mirror and I am once again pleased with what I see looking back at me. I pack everything back into my purse and turn to leave, but stop in my tracks when I hear a noise coming from one of the stalls. That’s when it hits me, I’m not the only one in the bathroom. I didn’t see anyone come in, so they must have been there before I walked in. When I sense my paranoia creeping up, I decide to get back to the table and use Dominic as a distraction.

Walking up, I see his handsome, smiling face looking straight at me. “I went ahead and ordered a basket of fries to share,” he says with pride.

“Pop quiz, if you fail then we need to end the night here,” I joke, “what kind of fries and what did you order to dip with them?”

“Steak cut seasoned fries and I ordered ranch for dipping,” he answers.

“Okay, I suppose we can continue this night,” I laugh. He laughs and I realize I have never felt funnier. I finally met someone who enjoys my sense of humor and laughs at my jokes. He gets me. He also hasn’t taken his eyes off me all night. He is making me feel beautiful and wanted. I scan the bar and notice there are a few attractive women hanging around. Hmph, I hope that’s not the only reason he cannot take his eyes off me. When the waitress walks over with the fries, I notice Dominic’s attention leave me for a split second and go to her. She drops off the fries and we thank her kindly, and as she walks away he returns his attention to me. I am shocked. He didn’t check her out. He was polite, but not flirtatious. Maybe he really is into me.

We finish the fries and I challenge Dominic to a game of pool. I debate telling him about my paranoia, but it’s a part of who I am and I feel he needs to know about it. Telling him upfront should spare both of us from wasting our time if he isn’t comfortable with an issue like this.

“I need to tell you something,” I start to confess.

“Oh no, please don’t tell me that you’re really a man? I knew you were too good to be true,” he jokes.

His joke is inappropriate, but his delivery makes it funny. I should have expected a joke, but for some reason he caught me off guard and all I can do is laugh. When I am finally able to control my laughter and regain my composure, I respond, “No, no, I’m not. If I was a man, I probably wouldn’t have to confess this to you. So, here goes,” I begin, “I have this paranoia that I’m always being followed. I’ve worked through it, but it’s something I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid. Once in third grade, I was walking home from school when a man pulled up in a van and tried to get me in it. The memory from that day has tormented me ever since. I understand if you want to end this now.”

I watch as his smile drops and his face suddenly turns serious, “Lucy, that’s awful. I’m sorry you went through that. Please, look me in the eye and listen to me carefully, I am here for you.

I will always be here for you. I wish I could have been there for you that day. I would never end this because of something like that. In fact, you should come to my self-defense class so that I can teach you how to fight your paranoia. No pun intended.”

My heart feels like it had a weight lifted off it, “You’ll really do that for me?”

“Absolutely, let’s have a quick session right now. First, we will start with the basics of safety. Always be aware of your surroundings. Do not get caught up in texting, looking at social media, or anything for that matter on your phone. In fact, your best choice is to keep your phone in your hand and ready to make an emergency call if necessary. At night, before you get in your car, look underneath it and peek into the windows to make sure no one is there. Sometimes predators will hide under the car and pop out when you start to get in, and on that note, lock your car doors the moment you get in.”

“Thank you for those tips, but please know, my paranoia already has me doing these things,” I smile at him. He’s good at what he does, and I can see the passion in his eyes as he talks. I feel a genuine curiosity arise, “I never asked, what made you get into teaching self-defense, besides your Army training?”

“Oh, a similar story to yours happened to my sister. I made a promise to her that I would make sure the bad guys never win.”

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