Rhythm of the Rain
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by Gemini Judson
Description: Annalee Wells is innately programmed to keep a constant rhythm. She'd been a competitive drummer in college and it was the best time of her life. She high-stepped through her university years and planned a bright future in veterinary medicine. Her future veered off course when her father was stricken ill. She went home to help him die and her rhythm has been off ever since. When a fun-loving golden retriever enters her pet-grooming salon with a handsome man on the other end of the leash, her heart plays a forgotten cadence. She's immediately smitten with the dog, and a little star struck when she learns that her new client, Tango, is the drum major for the best drum and bugle corps in the Midwest. When he asks her to join the notably all-male group, she's blown away. Is this the very thing that will bring the heartbeat back to her life? She'd let go of all her dreams when her dad died. Maybe Tango and the Blue Devil's drums could bring them back.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [94 KB]
Reading time: 51-72 min.
Annalee Wells stared out the window but saw nothing much. Rain dribbled in silent rivers and gathered yesterday's dust in miniature mud puddles on the ledge. The winter had been bitter cold without so much as a dusting of snow. The earth needed this refreshment. She absently glided the heart-shaped pendant along the silver chain around her neck. A chill washed over her and she shivered it away. She waited for thunder.
No, she waited for Thunder. The most irksome Poodle-Chihuahua mix she'd ever put a comb to. Thunder nipped and griped from the beginning of the bath to the bows in his ears. Annalee had tried to tell his owner, Mrs. Brody, that he really didn't need to come in every week. She might save some money--and Annalee's nerves--if she cut back to monthly groomings. But the little woman was hopelessly hard of hearing. The conversation had ended with an inexplicable wink from Mrs. Brody and resulted in no change in Thunder's grooming schedule.
At exactly nine o'clock, Annalee plugged in the neon OPEN sign and watched the electric tail come to life. She remembered watching it wag for an uncomfortable half-hour when she interviewed for an apprenticeship at Happy Tails Pet Salon. That was four years and many well-coiffed dogs ago. It seemed like much longer.
And now she waited for Thunder. Within minutes she saw Mrs. Brody struggling along the sidewalk with a gigantic umbrella and a rain-slickered Thunder under her arm. Annalee smiled at the sight, despite her dread of this regular pint-sized client. The door opened with a whirl of wind and rain. Annalee rushed to help subdue the umbrella and Thunder began to bark.
"Oh, shush. Quiet, Thunder!" Mrs. Brody relinquished the umbrella and shook nearly frozen droplets from her plastic rain bonnet. "A March rain is the coldest. Feels like a temper tantrum. He seems to have a snagging toenail. Catches on my rugs."
With the sensory onslaught of crinkly raincoats and Thunder's barking, Annalee had no energy to comment and saw no point. Thunder protested the hand-off, as he always did, and made threatening motions for Annalee's fingers. His vinyl rain slicker made him especially difficult to hold onto, and his hat fell to the floor. With an exhausted huff, Mrs. Brody retrieved it and set it on the counter. "What a stinker." She put a kind hand on Annalee's arm. "I'd only trust my little one with you. The old missus, she used to scold him. God rest her soul." She winked and pointed upstairs. "I'm glad she don't take care of Thunder no more. I know you're patient with him."
Annalee smiled and nodded and began to unbutton Thunder's ridiculous coat. He was warm and dry inside. She stroked his soft poodly coat. The Chihuahua traits were largely in the dog's temperament and not his appearance. "Thunder's my favorite client," she roared at Mrs. Brody, scrunching her hand over Thunder's mouth to hear her response.
"I'll run my errands and be back around noon."
Annalee released Thunder's mouth and he snapped at her fingers. She didn't even flinch. Throughout their long history, they'd worked out a copacetic relationship where he barked and threatened her fingers but never actually scored. Annalee kept the blow dryer away from his face and gathered a hefty tip.
"Let's get you started. Green bows today, mister. I don't care if you're not Irish."
The rain had ended, leaving a crisp clear sunshine behind. Annalee swept the last of the dog hair from the floor and thought about locking up early and going for a run. The trail around Lake Calhoun became a superhighway around four o'clock and she could beat the rush. She glanced over at the amiable Black Lab on the couch of the small salon. "Justine? Do you wanna go for a run? Should I close up shop?"
Thump, thump, thump...
Just as she leaned down to sweep her hair pile into a dustpan, the door jingled behind her. Shit. So much for the early run. She stood to greet her customer. The dustpan slipped from her hand to the floor with a clatter, scattered the hair once again.
"Whoa, there. Do you need a hand?"
A man stood in the flood of afternoon sunlight, brawny and dark and dripping with charisma. His tattered sleeveless t-shirt stretched to the limits of heathered fabric across his chest. Even the goose bumps on his arms seemed extraordinary. She chose not to--or couldn't--answer his question.
"Do you have time for a walk-in? Waylon here is a mess. Cockleburs. He's miserable with itching. Especially around the ears. Do you do cockleburs?" He paused to take a breath and grinned. "You do work here, right?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes." Annalee had a sheepish feeling that hours had slipped by while she ogled him. "I'm a groomer." She swallowed and added, "The only groomer."
She drew her gaze beyond his biceps and realized he had eyes and a gorgeous smile. A burly Golden Retriever put a paw on her leg, requesting some attention and possibly suggesting she get a grip on herself. "Hi, Waylon. Do you shake?" What a cool dog... Justine joined the party and sniffed the visiting dog's butt and took a few whiffs of the man. "Justine, c'mere. Sit."
"So what about the burs?"
Annalee examined the Golden Retriever's matted coat. It looked like a pretty simple comb-out, a shampoo and a bit of trimming. She loved goldens and figured it was an easy last appointment. "I can do him up right now if you like. I might need to do some clipping here and there. Is that okay?"
The man's eyes lit up and the room lit up with them. Beautiful sparkles of pale blue made Annalee literally gasp.
"That'd be great. I just came from the veterinarian, and she recommended you."
Dr. Evans. Annalee and Happy Tails would be lost without her support. "Is Waylon sick?" Annalee gave him a clipboard with her standard paperwork and watched while he cranked his left hand around to fill it out.
"Ah, no. Just his routine check-up. Wouldn't ya know he went for a junket through the swamps just before it was time to go. Last fall's weeds are still sticky, even in the rain." He handed the clipboard back to Annalee.
She quickly glanced over the information. "Your name is Tango?"
The slightest blush accented his cheeks. "Close enough, isn't it? It's just a haircut for my dog. It's not like I'm applying for a mortgage." He shrugged.
Annalee laughed. "It must be pretty hideous if you're that defensive." She waited for Theodore or Tobias or Tiberius.
"It's Antonio, but I only answer to Tango."
That's it? She saw nothing objectionable about the name Antonio and continued to skim the clipboard. Neutered male, one hundred and ten happy-go-lucky pounds of fluff with an immaculate medical history. "Okay, Tango. You can come back in about an hour. Waylon will be a new dog."
Waylon and Justine romped and wrestled and had no notion of the time. But Annalee did and Tango was over two hours late. The running rush hour was long over and the sun winked on the horizon. She looked over the information he'd provided on his form. Tango. Just Tango, with no telephone number or address. Why the hell did she let him leave with so many blanks in his paperwork? Waylon's history was perfectly documented and she'd been impressed by that. His rabies tag number, shot record, latest frickin' fecal exam was neatly penciled in, but no cell phone number for Tango.
"Well, the show must go on, right, gang?" Annalee grabbed two leashes and a waste bag to take the happy campers out for a doodle. As the dogs tugged her out the front door, a car screamed to a halt at the curb.
Tango jumped out with his arms extended as if he might grab her for a hug. "I was totally sidetracked. I'm so sorry. Forgive me. Hey, look at Waylon!" He knelt down to give his dog a hundred ruffles of his soft, newly feathered coat. "He looks great!" He stood again with a big smile that quickly disappeared with more contrition. "I'm really sorry. I'll pay you for the extra time. Double."
This was an awkward moment for Annalee. That's how she ended up with Justine. Nobody ever came to pick her up. But Tango did come back and he was drop-dead cute. While her reaction ran the gamut from pissed off all the way over to pride in customer satisfaction, Tango continued to greet Waylon with good-natured hugs. Justine couldn't resist and fumbled into the mix. Annalee laughed at Tango and the tail-wagging frenzy. "I missed my run, that's all. And I was getting hungry."
"I got busy with some new music and..." He gave Annalee a sideways glance as the dogs' attention shifted back to one another. "Can I take you to dinner?" He stood tall and looked into her eyes. "I'd like to explain, and show you I'm not a jerk. It's the least I can do."
"Dinner?" Annalee clicked the unwind button on the leashes to give the dogs more freedom and rubbed her arms in the cold evening air. "That's really not nec--"
"Nothing fancy. Your dog and Waylon can come too."
Annalee tried in vain to think of an eating establishment where that could actually happen. "She's not my dog," she answered absently and watched them take turns peeing on a shrub.
"She's not?" Tango breezed by his momentary confusion. "What do you say? It'll be fun. I owe it to you."
"I don't even know you," Annalee protested and led the way back into the salon. The old upbeat Annalee would have embraced the invitation immediately. Her gloomy self of late wasn't so eager.
Once inside, Tango shook a chill from his limbs and stuck out his hand. "I'm Tango Pettit. Your name is Anna, I believe?"
"Annalee. Annalee Wells." She shook his hand with a foolish, bashful smile.
"You're a pet groomer, I'm a bricklayer."
"A bricklayer? Really?" She knew it would be something requiring arms of steel.
"Really. See? We might as well work out the details over dinner."
Well isn't he pushy... But his smile and his muscles were doing all the persuading she needed and upbeat Annalee prevailed. "All right. Ah--can I have five minutes to change? My apartment is upstairs."
"No kidding? That's handy. For commuting, I mean." He unhooked the dogs and set the leashes on the counter. "Sure, take all the time you need. We'll wait here."
A few minutes and a clean shirt later, Annalee unplugged the wagging tail light and locked up the salon. As she settled into the front seat of Tango's car, she couldn't help but notice the passenger window was smudged with a million nose prints and dried dog slobber. A surprising blast of marching band music burst from the speakers when Tango turned the key.
"Sorry." He quickly turned the thunderous noise down--not off. "And double sorry about the window." He raised his eyebrows. "Seems like that's all I'm doing is apologizing."
"No need. Dog drool is a big part of my life. And so is the music."
"Oh yeah? You like brass?"
"I like the drums. I played snare drum in marching band. Odd choice of listening music for--well, everybody else."
"Then I guess I'm not everybody else. I'm the drum major for the Hennepin Blue Devils."
"No kidding? God, I love the Blue Devils!"
"I think we are going to have a lot to talk about at dinner."