I look upon the small, yapping Boston terrier on my grooming table and wonder how the heck I’m going to manage to get it into the steel bath. I prefer bigger dogs. They’re easier to handle when the showerhead blasts out the water and the hairdryers make them jump. It’s the small ones that are the wriggly buggers, who slip out of your grip and run riot around the grooming rooms.
“Evelyn, you want me to take over? I can see you making evil eyes at the poor thing already.”
I turn to see Sophie, the other groomer here at Collars and Tails eye me up from her workstation. This is our dynamic - she takes the small ones and me the big. It just works for us.
I look at the steel bath and nod my head more than a few times. “Would you?”
Sophie heads my way and scoops the still barking dog into her arms. “There’s a three o’clock in the waiting room you need to book in before Gary gets here. You know how pissy he gets when customers have to wait longer than a few minutes.”
“Girls,” Gary’s voice makes us both leap into action, me dashing for the door, Sophie almost throwing the poor dog in the bath, causing a splash sound. I push on the door when he says, “Customers are waiting to be served!”
“Sorry,” I say, throwing him my best smile, sliding past his body and towards the woman holding the grey husky. “We’re run off our feet today. Hello, Mrs Bright. What’s Penny in for today? A wash and blow-dry?”
“Yes, I need it to be as quick as possible. We’re going away for the weekend, and we want to hit the road early,” Mrs Bright responds, glancing at the watch strapped to her wrist as if the movement will speed me up somehow.
My hand finds penny’s head, fingers stroking her ears. “No problem. I can do it in twenty minutes.”
Mrs Bright shows off her white, plastic smile. “Perfect,” she shoves the leather lead in my hands, bending down, so she’s eye to eye with Penny. “Be a good girl. Mummy won’t take long to come back.”
“Do I pay now?”
I shake my head, starting to walk penny to the groom room door, her tail wagging back and forth. “No, we’ll cover it later.”
Gary hurries over to the door to let her out of the parlour, his trying to be charming smile, making me feel queasy. Sophie is scrubbing the Terrier’s fur with a rubber curry comb when I bring Penny to my station, the suds taking over.
“Hey, Pen,” she shouts across the room, laughing when the dog lets out an excited woof. “You ready for your pamper, girl?”
“I need to be speedy. Mrs Bright is on a mission tonight.”
“A mission to be even more annoying?” Sophie mumbles in a low, teasing voice.
Penny follows me towards the other steel bath, trotting happily up the ramp. I widen my eyes which causes her to laugh. “And Gary is out there licking her arse.”
“Evelyn, babe,” Sophie snorts, switching on the water. “Not the visual I need right now.”
I check the temperature on the dial and switch on the tap, soaking Penny’s steel-grey coat, watching the colour darken. “You got any plans tonight?”
It’s Friday which means it’s buy-one-get-one-free on the alcoholic drinks at our regular haunt, Bar 72 on the Dame strip. Sophie and I usually go out as a group with my boyfriend, Callum, a.k.a. C.J, and a bunch of other friends, but I have other plans this week.
It’s Christmas in sixteen days, and I’m helping to add a festive touch to Callum’s apartment.
“Yeah, we’re doing the usual,” she responds, starting to dry the excess moisture off the Terrier’s fur with a towel.
I squirt a decent amount of dog shampoo on Penny’s coat and massage my fingers through her fur. “I bought baubles and fairy lights from Wilko on my dinner break. I want to surprise C.J with them when he picks me up.”
Sophie shakes her head. “Hendrix isn’t going to be happy you’re not drinking tonight.”
I laugh. “Hendrix is a grown man with a brain and two legs. If he wants to meet you all out, he can.”
Hendrix is Callum’s goofy, party-loving roommate of six years, and I have a love-hate relationship with him. Our personalities seem to clash one minute, and then he has me in fits of laughter a moment later with one of his famously bad jokes.
“It’s no fun when you’re not there. Can’t you sack off decorating until the weekend? You have it off.”
Penny sticks her tongue out and shakes her body hard when I finish rinsing the shampoo off, bending in half and trying to lick my face when I smooth the leave-in conditioner over her wet coat. Sophie is trying to keep the Terrier still in her arms when she takes him over to her station, and I try not to tell her that I told her so when she struggles to keep him still on the table.
“I’m sorry, Soph. I want to spend some time with C.J tonight. I’ve not seen him much this week because he’s exhausted from work and Uni. Do you want to do something tomorrow night?”
Sophie pins the dog down, trying to soothe him with her shushing. “We can do. I’ll speak to everyone tonight and see what they’re doing.”
We switch on the hairdryers at the same time and get styling our pooches, making them camera-ready in minutes. I finish Penny off with a spritz of doggy perfume, rubbing shea butter into the cracked skin on her paws. Mrs Bright is waiting on one of the plush leather chairs when I bring Penny to the front of the parlour, seeing her eyes light up when they fall on her dog.
“Oh, Evelyn, you’ve done a wonderful job with my baby girl,” she snatches the lead back, dragging the dog to the cashpoint, shoving her loyalty card near the till. “I get a free wash with this because it’s my birthday month.”
I nod, opening the system up on the iPad, typing the code from her card into the system to check she hasn’t already used it. “Yes, that’s fine,” I save the information and look up to smile at the blonde woman. “It’s all paid for. I hope you enjoy your weekend away.”
“Thanks, Evelyn,” she air kisses my face, spinning around to stride towards the door, waving at Gary when he comes out of his office to say goodbye. “See you after Christmas.”
“Evelyn, tidy your station before you leave ready for Nathan in the morning,” Gary says, closing himself in his office.
I salute the closed door. “Sure.”
Just as I walk towards the grooming room, the front door chimes and in walks, my handsome man. Ten minutes early. My mouth tilts up into a smile, C.J’s eyes softening into two hazel pools of loveliness, the curls in his hair falling into his face.
“Good day?” he asks, taking two steps my way, reaching out to pull me into his arms.
I use both hands to cup his face and move up on my toes to press a hard kiss on to his mouth. “Yeah, slow, but good. You?”
Callum keeps his arms around me. “Boring as hell. My eyes are all dried out from staring at the computer so long.”
“Poor, baby. You in need of a break?” I move my hands to rest behind his neck.
“Evelyn, you’re still working,” Gary shouts, and I pull away, rolling my eyes.
“Sorry, you gonna wait in the car?”
Callum backs up, eyes on me. “We’re in Hendrix’s car. He’s parked in the Boots car park.”
I hurry to tidy up so I can leave and start the festivities. “Okay.”
I spot Hendrix’s sporty Vauxhall Astra from a mile away, the LED lights bright in the dark, music booming across the car park. I bang on the back window, warning him to unlock the doors so I can open the boot. Unloading my work bags into the small space, I close the boot with a hard slam and climb into the back of the car through the passenger’s seat.
“Are we stopping by Home Deals to get some decorations?” Hendrix says, turning down the music.
I peep at both men through the gap in the front seats. “Yes, please.”
In a second, I’m thrown back in my seat as Hendrix wellies the accelerator to race out of the parking space and on to the road. Callum shouts for him to slow down, turning to check on me. I make sure to buckle my seatbelt in, not wanting whiplash from his daredevil driving skills.
“You’re an idiot,” Callum says, shaking his head. “You’ll kill someone one day.”
“Chill the fuck out,” Hendrix replies, pointing to the dashboard where his cigarettes sit in a fancy tin decorated with a picture of a naked woman. Classy. “Light me a smoke, will you?”
“No, not with Evie in the car.”
Hendrix catches my gaze in the rearview mirror. “Evelyn doesn’t mind, do you, babe?”
I sit forward in the curving, motorsport type car seat. “I do mind. It stinks and doesn’t help my chest.”
“Your asthma,” he responds, and I see the idiot rolling his eyes in the mirror.
I start to flick through my phone, liking pictures on Instagram, texting my mum back with a funny gif of a cow wearing a wig and checking Wattpad to see if my favourite authors updated their books. “Yeah, you know, the disease that could kill me.”
Hendrix mumbles, “Drama queen,” before turning the music up to a deafening level.
It’s an Eminem song. One of torture and life lessons. It’s relatable, and I find myself singing along to the end, getting excited when I see the retail-park lights shining in the night up ahead. Hendrix steals a spot near the store’s entrance, and I get a rush when I spot all the fir Christmas trees near the door.
“Can we get a real tree?” I say to Callum when he helps me out of the car.
He links our fingers together. “Sure, babe.”
We stop to take a look at the trees, looking at the open sample next to the wrapped trees to get an idea of how big it’ll be in the apartment sitting room. I make Callum stand next to it, averaging it at a little over six foot as the stem at the top just about overtakes his head.
I get closer to smell the fresh pine fragrance. “It smells wonderful.”
Callum rests his hand on my lower back, moving in to get in on the smell too. “It’s lovely. We’ll pay for one and then grab it before we leave.”
Hendrix crosses his arms over his chest. “I ain’t cleaning up those needles when they drop.”
Callum chuckles, leading the way to the store. “Since when do you tidy anything?”
“True,” Hendrix laughs, seeming distracted for a minute. “Chocolate selection boxes. Nice,” he turns to me. “You want Cadbury or Galaxy? We can share it.”
“You choose,” I smile, and he decides to pick up both, dropping them into the basket Callum brings to him.
Callum wraps his arm around my shoulders, and presses his lips gently over my temple to keep his mouth close to my skin all the way down the aisle. He whispers. “He ain’t letting you anywhere near that chocolate.”
I snort. “I’m surprised he asked my opinion. It’s not touching my lips.”
Hendrix gets greedy with the sweet tin, often clearing the cupboards of any sugary treats before anyone else gets to try them.
“I’ll buy you some,” he says, stopping by the toiletry aisle to stock up on the essentials. “You want me to get you a toothbrush, so you don’t have to keep remembering to bring yours from home?”
I pick a pink one, so it doesn’t get mixed up with theirs in the bathroom. “Sure.”
Hendrix makes a gasping noise. “Celebration tins for a three quid? Score.”
I frown up at Callum. “Is this his first time in here?”
“Yeah, he doesn’t do shopping,” he chuckles, watching his best friend piling the basket high with crap we don’t need.
My phone buzzes with a text message from Sophie...picture attached. It’s a group photograph, and they look on their way to getting drunk. Callum glances down when I show him, telling me to save the picture to send to him. I do, and then show it to Hendrix who’s interested in what we’re talking about without him.
“Are they staying at Bar 72 all night or moving next door?”
I shrug. “No idea. You meeting them?”
It takes a while for him to decide, his thoughts taking him away someplace, eyes firmly on Callum. “Nah, I’ll chill with you.“