14] TWO ANIMAL CUPID STORIES - fiction
     
1] Intro to Dog Stories

2] Miracle Dog

3] War Dog

4] Ghost Dog

5] Helper Dogs for the Disabled

6] Calendar Dogs

7] More Calendar Dogs

8] 3 Wild Dogs / Free Vet Help

9] My Wildest Pooch of All

10] A Christmas & Halloween Story

11] Author's Dog Books

12] 2 Short Mysteries

13] 2 Stories With Kids

14] 2 Animal Cupid Stories

15] COVID PAWS-itive Thoughts

16] Pet R.I.P Comfort

17] Animal Photos / Pet Adoption Sites

18] Upcoming Book Setting!

 
TWO STORIES WHERE ANIMALS PLAY CUPID! * Photo of my father & the real-life "Baron" at right!

A Black Lab Story

 ALL THAT GLITTERS

             "Let's see.  That's five days of house-sitting, feeding and walking the dog, plus picking up the mail."  Mark peeled off a generous sheaf of bills from his gold-plated money clip, and held it out.  "This should about do it.  And this too for the tip."

             The eyes of the attractive woman before him were wide and staring.  "I can't take that tip!  It’s almost as much as my wages, Mr. Sheraton."

            "I've asked you to call me Mark," he reminded her with a smile.  "And it's not too much.  My last house-sitter stole my spare watch, ignored my dog, and threw a party in my house.  I haven't had one problem since I've used your services.  You're a blessing, Jennifer.  I'm grateful.  So is Baron."

            Mark watched her hand stroked the glossy coat of his black Labrador retriever.  Baron's tail wagged against Jennifer's skirt, fur and material swishing together in an even rhythm.

            "Please, take the tip money.  You earned it."

            Jennifer hesitated.  "Actually, I'd rather have something else from you."

            Mark's hand dropped to his side.  "Something else?"

            "Yes.  You see, I need some advice.  Fashion advice."

            "Fashion..."  His voice trailed off in disbelief.  "But you look lovely!"

            Jennifer laughed, a delightful sound that filled every corner of his spacious Manhattan penthouse.  "Oh, really, Mr. Sheraton, you needn't be so polite.  I know exactly what I look like--a California surfer wanna-be.  Look and tell me I'm wrong."

            Mark did as she requested.  He took in the riot of hair that flowed free down her back; the red curls tangled about a ridiculous pair of oversized parrot earrings.  Her top and swirling skirt were an inexpensive cotton tropical print, the colors as flamboyantly vivid as her hair.  Beneath the shapely legs were a pair of bright green sandals that exactly matched the shade as her eyes.

            You light up the room, Mark thought, but he couldn't say that.  He settled instead for, "You're a very striking woman."

            She grimaced.  "You mean I stand out like a sore thumb.  My gentleman friend says I look like a refugee from a flower-power hippie from the 70s."

            "Your boyfriend doesn't like your clothes?" Mark's fingers tightened on the bills still in his hand.  "Is that what this is about?"

            "It's not just that," Jennifer quickly replied.  "This is the city.  Good jobs are as tough to find as good apartments.  Don't get me wrong, I love animals."  She scratched behind Baron's ears.  "And house-sitting pays my bills, but not everyone's as generous as you are.  I have my pre-vet degree, but I need a decent job if I'm ever to start vet school in the fall.  I'll never find one dressed like this."  She stared at her hot-pint sandals with distaste.  "Bill says I look like I'm fifteen instead of twenty-three.  Maybe he's right."

            "So you want me to change your--image?" Mark said slowly.

            Jennifer nodded.  "If you wouldn't mind giving me a few pointers.  I mean, you're very sophisticated and very mature."

            Mark kept his temper under control.  "I'm only seven years older than you--hardly in my dotage."

            "I know," she said, giving him a lovely smile.  "But I'm a lost cause when it comes to New York chic.  While you--"  She took in his understated tailored clothes, the expensive cut of his hair, and tasteful watch and signet ring.  "Would you help me?"

            "I--"  Mark hesitated, and he was a man who rarely hesitated at anything.  "I never saw myself as Henry Higgins.  And you're no Eliza Doolittle."

            "But I am!" Jennifer insisted.  "Please, Mr. Sheraton.  I don't want to clean people's bathrooms the rest of my life!"

            "You clean houses, too?"  His tone of voice was so shocked that Baron's ears pricked.

            Jennifer lifted her chin, not ashamed in the least. "It pays the rent."

            There was silence in the room.  Then, "I'll do it," Mark decided.  "But only if you take my tip."  He ignored her protests, and made her accept all the money, paycheck and tip. "You come see me every Friday after you get off work.  Whenever you get here is fine.  We'll see what we can do."

            "Friday nights?  But--"

            "If you're worried about my social life, don't.  Friday nights Baron and I watch a movie on cable."  An unpleasant thought came to him.  "Unless this interferes with yours."

            "Bill hasn't asked me out lately--"  Jennifer abruptly broke off.  "I mean, Friday nights are just fine.  Thank-you so much, Mr. Sheraton."

            "That's Mark," he insisted.

            Jennifer nodded, but she didn't use his first name.  "Call me if you change your mind."

            "Friday," he said firmly.  He walked her to the elevator, and watched until the doors closed.  Baron whined.

            "Don't be a fool, boy.  She doesn't live here."  Baron whimpered again, and Mark absently fondled the black ears.  "Besides, Friday's only three days away.

            Those days seemed to drag on forever.  But finally his buzzer rang, the elevator doors opened, and Jennifer stepped foot inside his apartment again.  Baron barked a greeting, then enthusiastically jumped up on Jennifer, his massive paws resting on the crouching tigers of her safari blouse.

            "Hello, Jennifer.  Baron, get down," Mark ordered, reaching for Baron's collar.

            "Don't scold him, he was only being friendly.  Right, boy?"  She gave them both her familiar brilliant smile.  "I hope I'm not disturbing you two."

            "Oh, no.  We've been waiting."

            Jennifer gave the dog one last pat.  "Well, here I am, ready for my make-over."

            "Make-overs aren't my specialty," Mark replied.  "But I have some ideas like this outlet store that carries inexpensive designer knock-offs."

            "You'll tell me what outfits are classy and which ones aren't?"

            "I can try.  I know what my mother and sister like to wear."

            "Great!"  Jennifer clapped her hands together.  "I brought my debit card."

            Mark firmly ignored the Baron's mournful expression as he and Jennifer left him behind, then stepped into the elevator.  "Let's go."

            The cab ride seemed all too short, the time alone with her even shorter.  Mark contentedly walked next Jennifer toward the store.  As always, the New York sidewalks were filled with pushing, bustling throngs of people.  But Jennifer's animated presence eclipsed them all.

            "What kind of job are you looking for?" he asked, dismissing the limo with a wave of his hand.

            "I have a minor in art history.  A friend of mine told me about an opening coming up in the gallery where he works.  I'd work evenings, and take classes during the day."

            "A gallery...  I'd suggest a classic look in muted colors--simple, subdued, and quiet."

            Jennifer frowned.  "That doesn't sound like me."

            Mark silently agreed.  "You need to be able to blend into the background in an art gallery.  You can't detract from the exhibits."

            Her hand rose self-consciously to her head.  "My hair," she groaned.  "I can't very well shave my head.  And I'd rather not color it."

            "Heavens, no!"  He was horrified at the thought.  "The color's is fine.  Try putting it up in a French braid.  I'll give you the name of the hairdresser my sister uses to have hers done."

            "The braid sounds okay, but I think I'll do it myself," Jennifer said decisively.  "How hard can it be?"

            Mark remained silent, and forced himself to keep from touching the curls tumbling down her shoulders.  He was never one to touch another man's woman, yet it was proving to be exceedingly difficult to keep to that resolution.  He tucked Jennifer's arm inside hers, telling himself that it was only the polite thing to do in these crowds.

            "We're here," he said lightly.  "After you, madame."

            A few hours later they came out again, his hands grasping carrying straps on sacks filled with clothing.

            "You should let me carry some," Jennifer insisted.  "I must have bought out the whole store.  You were right about those prices.  They're fantastic.  So are the clothes."

            Mark smiled.  "You looked great in all of them."

            "Only because you have good taste.  I wouldn't have looked twice at half of these.  Not one loud color among them."

            "I'm sorry about that."  He really was.  Somehow the stunning creature in the designer cuts hadn't seemed like the good-natured woman who didn't mind black dog hairs on her clothes.

            Jennifer gave him a puzzled look.  "Don't be.  It's what I wanted.  I mean, it's all trappings anyway, right?  I'm not changing on the inside."

            "I suppose."

            Jennifer kindly patted his arm.  "I know how to cheer you up.  How does a hot dog and fresh salted pretzel sound?  My treat.  I've worn you out, and we haven't eaten."

            "That sounds good, and you haven't worn me out at all," Mark insisted, afraid she might back off at a later date.  "It's been fun.  I've had marathon shopping sessions with my mother and sister.  Dad refuses to go with them, but I don't mind."

            "You're a very nice person, Mark."

            Nice.  That word rang in his head long after the cab dropped her off at her walk-up.  Nice.  The ultimate insult to any red-blooded male.  He wasn't handsome, or debonair, or charming, or intelligent, or--heaven forbid--sexy.  He was nice.  Mark was still trying to force that word out of his head when the following Friday rolled around.

            Baron rose from his spot under the grand piano at the sound of the elevator, but Mark was even quicker.  He beat the dog by a good ten feet to the door, opened it, and let Jennifer into the penthouse.

            "Jennifer?"  Mark froze in his steps.  "Is that you?"

            "In the flesh."

            Mark blinked in surprise, and stared at the vision of New York high fashion.  Everything from the tip of her French-braided head to the grey pumps was sophistication personified.

            She laughed her delightful laugh, and pirouetted for his benefit.  "Well, what do you think?"

            "You're certainly a fast study," he said, not knowing exactly what to think.  She looked like something out of Vogue, not the woman who petted his dog and brightened his home.

            Jennifer took his remark as a compliment.  "Thank-you, kind sir.  I've worked hard at this facade."

            "I can tell.  What are you interested in buying this trip?"

            "About that--I'm afraid I can't stay."

            Mark hid his disappointment.  "No?"

            "No.  I've been called back for a second interview the art gallery.  I'm on my way over there right now.  I just had to tell you.  If it wasn't for your help, I wouldn't have made it this far."

            "Don't go yet."  Mark walked up to her, and gently touched the wooden parrot in one ear.  "Better take these out before the job interview."

            "Oops!"

            Jennifer's fingers, complete with newly painted nails flew to her ears.  In all the times he'd used Jennifer's house-sitting services, he never remembered her painting her nails.

            "Those silly things.  I forgot to change them."  She pulled them out and he held out his hand to hold them for her.  "I have the ones I want to wear in my purse."  She slipped simple gold studs into her ear lobes.  "There.  How's that?"

            "It looks--"  Like the last trace of the real Jennifer is gone.  "Nice."  There was that word again.  Well, she used it on him.  He could use it on her.

            Jennifer gave him an assessing luck.  "I thought you'd be happy for me, Mr. Sheraton.  If I get this job, I start vet school this fall."

            "That's Mark," he automatically corrected.  "And I am happy for you.  But I--that is, Baron--will miss you when you're off in class."

            "That's not for months, yet.  You'll both see me next Friday," Jennifer promised.  "Wish me luck."

            He slipped the bright parrot earrings into his pocket, leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the lips.  "That's for luck."

            She blinked in surprise.  "I--uh--have a taxi waiting.  Bye."

            Mark punched the button that activated the elevator doors as Baron pushed past him to lick Jennifer's hand.

            "Get away, Baron."  She impatiently stepped away from the eager dog.  "You're shedding."

            The doors closed.  Baron stared at Mark with sad eyes, and Mark withdrew the parrot earrings from his pocket.

            "Don't look at me like that, boy.  It wasn't my idea to play Henry Higgins."  With a sigh of frustration, Mark threw the earrings in the kitchen trash can.  "She was never interested in us anyway."

            But much later, he carefully fished the parrots out again and put them on his desk, next to the calendar that told him Friday would come again.  And with it, Jennifer.

            The elevator bell rang, signaling Jennifer's entrance a week later.  Baron refused to greet her.  He had his pride, but Mark didn't.  He ran to the elevator doors and was waiting as she came out.

            "Jennifer!"  He eagerly drank in her familiar face in the unfamiliar, sophisticated clothes.  "Did you get the job?"

            "Well, no," she answered, her smile as lovely as ever as they both sat down.  "But they want me to interview at another branch next week.  I'm so excited.  Who would have thought a few new outfits could make such a difference?  Why, even Bill--"

            "What about Bill?" Mark's voice was harsh, but Jennifer didn't seem to notice.

            "Bill's fallen in love with me all over again!  It's like when we first met."  Her eyes were shining with happiness, her expression soft and tender.  Mark, on the other hand, was in the grips of jealousy.  With the control acquired during hundreds of business deals, he was calm and collected.

            "How lucky for you both," he managed to say.  "Has he popped the big question yet?"

            "He might.  That's why I'm here," Jennifer breathlessly explained.  "He wants to take me out to the fanciest, most expensive restaurant in Manhattan.  Could you help me pick out a dress?"

            "No way."

            Jennifer's eyes opened wide.  "Why not?  It's Friday."

            "I don't want to be part of this.  You want to marry someone who only loves your clothes?  What kind of man is that?"

            Jennifer stared at him; mouth parted.   "You didn't seem to mind when I dressed up for my job interviews."

            "You aren't going to be spending the rest of your life with some employer!  Wake up, Jennifer!  Bill isn't the man for you."

            "He is, too!"

            Mark rose to his feet and crossed over to his desk.  "Then prove it.   Put on those bright clothes you usually to wear to this fancy place.  Then see if he still proposes."

            "I will!  And it won't made any difference because I know he loves me!"

            "I'll believe it when I see it.  Not until then."

            "I'll show you my ring, and introduce you to my future husband next Friday."  Jennifer's face was pale as she added, "But that's the last time I ever visit.  My life's with Bill now."

            "Whatever."  Mark savagely punched the elevator button. "Good-night, Jennifer."

            "Good-bye, Mr. Sheraton."

            This time, he didn't bother to correct her.

            The next Friday rolled around.  Mark was miserable.  Of course Bill would marry her.  Any fool would marry a woman like Jennifer.  No one was crazy enough to throw away happiness because of a tie-dyed print and some beaded sandals.  His only hope was that Jennifer had enough sense to call it off--or that Bill would take a long walk off a short pier.  Mark groaned aloud.

            He should never have sent her off to Bill.  Instead, he should have thrown his arms around her and kissed her senseless.  He should have told her he loved her.  He didn't care what she wore or how she looked, save for her lovely smile.  More than once he'd picked up his cell phone and called her number, but each time he stoppped short of punching in the last number.

            Baron stretched and yawned, then whimpered.

            "She's not coming until Friday, and I just walked you.  So lay down and be quiet."

            The dog didn't obey.  Instead he whimpered again, and came to lay his head in Mark's lap.  Mark scratched his dog's ears, patted the muscled neck.

            "Thanks to me, pup, she's off getting engaged to some idiot.  He'll probably make her cut her hair and dye it blonde.  Can you believe it?  What a waste."  For both of us.

            The doorman buzzed his speaker.  Mark rose, cursing.  He was in no mood for company, until he heard it was Jennifer.

            "Send her up."

            Jennifer had been crying.  Mark's chest wrenched at the sight.

            "Well, you were right."  The cheerful colors of her tropical print wrap-around dress clashed with her sad face.  "Bill was all set to propose until he saw me like this."

            "He broke it off?"  Please, please say he broke it off!

            "Yes."

            "I'm so sorry."  That's a lie.  I'm not sorry at all!  Lucky me, the man's an idiot!

            "Bill said I was embarrassing him in public.  Said I dressed like a little kid--that I didn't look mature enough for the restaurant."

            Mark was incensed.  If Bill was around, he'd cheerfully wring his neck, and let Baron gnaw on the remains down to the last bone.  "He has nerve.  And no class.  None whatsoever."

            "That's what he said.  I had no class.  Wouldn't fit in with his workers and lifestyle."  She wiped her eyes, pulling black streaks of mascara down her cheeks.  She rarely wore mascara.

            "Don't you believe it!  You're a class act, all the way.  Bill's the loser."

            "I guess I...kind of figured that out.  But I really liked him."

            Liked.  Not loved.  That means she'll get over it.

           "Any man who can't see beyond some knock-offs and fancy makeup isn't worth it."  He passed her a tissue, and gently squeezed her free hand.

            "I know."  Jennifer sniffed, then smiled.  "But I'm not here to cry on your shoulder.  I wanted to tell you I got the job at that other gallery.  I'm finally going to vet school."

            "Hey, congratulations!"

            "Thanks.  I'm very excited."

            Baron rose from his spot under the piano and padded over to her chair.  She dropped to her knees and gave the dog a big hug.  Baron collapsed on the floor, all four legs waving in the air as he begged Jennifer to rub his belly.  She obliged; the tropical print of her skirt outlined brightly against the lab's black fur.  Mark wished he was as close to her as the dog.

            "I had to tell you the good news," she said, keeping her eyes low.  "Also, I'll keep house-sitting, if you want."

            Mark's heart gave a big leap in his chest, then he reeled it in.  "Are you doing this for all your other customers?"

            "Nope, just you.  If Baron needs me, please give me a call."

            Just us.  No one else.  Mark felt hope cast rainbow-colored hues about the room.  "I'll take you back under two conditions."

            Confused, Jennifer tilted her head up.

            “One, you have to wear these again.  Starting now.”

            He passed her the parrot earrings

            "I wonder what happened to them," and she immediately exchanged the hoops for the parrots.

            “And two?”

            Mark boldly reached for her hands, and took them in his own.  "I want us to be friends, not just worker and boss."

            "Friends?" Jennifer echoed.

            "You know, eat out together, take in a movie once in awhile, walk the dog in the park on the weekend, use each other’s first names...  That kind of friend.  But no pressure."  For now.  Then soul mate and wife, if you'll have me.

            "Well, you can never have too many friends," Jennifer replied in a shaky voice.

            Mark pulled her to her feet.  Jealous, Baron softly woofed his approval, and moved toward them.  Mark smiled, and gently touched the parrot in her right ear.  The earring swayed, but Mark's eyes were only on Jennifer.

            "How about if you and I go out for root beer floats and hot pretzels?  Baron, too.   I'm buying."

            Jennifer gave him that lovely smile, the one he'd dreamed of night after night. 

           "I think I'd like that...Mark."

 

            THE END

 


 

A Thanksgiving Bunny Story (no dog)

 LOPSIDED LOVE

 

            "Remember, for the freshest, plumpest turkeys, and a truly delicious Thanksgiving meal, shop your local--"

            Genevieve cut off the cheery announcer's smile with a firm zap on her remote control.  "No, thanks," she said to the now blank screen.  "I'll pass on the cooking, the dishes, and the football games.  I'm spending my Thanksgiving with Chinese take-home and streaming a good movie off Netflix."

            Her French Lop, the one that had prompted her landlord to revise subsequent apartment leases for future tenants to say, "No dogs, cats, or rabbits of any size," hopped up on the couch beside her.

            "Well, okay, I'll stop and buy you some carrots," she said with a smile, fingering the long ears that hung down on either side of the gray head.  "But that's all the Thanksgiving shopping you're getting out of me."

            The doorbell rang.  Genevieve checked her watch and frowned.  Who could that be this late in the evening?  She scooped up the rabbit in her arms and went to check her peephole.  To her surprise, it was the new tenant down the hall.  She made sure the thick security chain was fastened before opening the door a crack.

            "Yes?"  She saw two brown eyes fill with relief.

            "Remember me?  Your new neighbor?"

            Genevieve nodded.  "Jeb, isn't it?"  Not that Genevieve had to strain her memory for the name.  The single women in the building had already filled her in with the rest of the details.  Widowed a year ago, attractive, but not stuck on himself, good job, no girlfriend.

            "Right."  He smiled with relief.  "I have a problem.  My son here had a little run-in with some mud at the school playground."

            Genevieve watched as a very dirty eight-year-old was positioned in front of the crack in her door.  "So I see."  She couldn't refrain from smiling.  The child was a walking advertisement for laundry detergent.

            "There's a plumber in working on a broken toilet and the water's shut off.  I know it's a terrible imposition, but could I possibly use your tub for Nate here?  He has school tomorrow, he needs to get to bed, and it's so late..."

            Genevieve heard his voice trail off, knowing he expected her to refuse.  After all, this was the big city.

            "Sorry to bother you," he said with a sigh when she didn't answer right away.

            "No, wait."  She unbolted the chain.  The crimes she heard about certainly weren't committed by muddy little boys.

            "Come on in."

            "Thanks, Ms.--"

            "Genevieve."

            "Thanks, Genevieve.  This is my son, Nate."

            "Hey, cool!  A rabbit!"  Nate immediately said, reaching for the soft gray fur in her arms with a grubby hand.  "Dad, look!  What's his name?"

            Genevieve smiled.  "Loppy, because she--not he--is a French Lop.  She's very smart, and very friendly."  Almost as friendly as the little boy.  "She won't bite."

            Jeb was the one who relocked her bolt and chain.  "I really appreciate this," he said.  "You're the third person we've tried. People aren't very sociable here, are they?"

            "Not really, although the landlord-bashing sessions down at the mailboxes can get pretty lively," Genevieve informed him.  "That toilet of yours has been broken for the last two tenants.  And the plumber--he's the landlord's brother, by the way--never fixes it for long.  My advice to you is to hire your own repairman, and deduct the expense from your rent.  That's what most of us do."

            Jeb nodded.  "Thanks for the advice.  Nate, you're getting that rabbit all dirty."

            "That's okay."  Genevieve headed back for the couch, Nate in tow.  "She'll wash herself right up.  Rabbits are very clean.  Did you know you can litter-box train them?"

            "Stay off the carpet, son!"  Jeb stopped an excited Nate from tracking mud over the throw rug.  "We should be doing some washing up ourselves.  If you'll show me the bathroom--"

            "Of course."  Genevieve put Loppy down on the throw pillows.  "Follow me."

            A few minutes later Nate was in a warm tub scrubbing himself, and Genevieve and Jeb were in the living room drinking coffee.

            "I really appreciate this.  Both the bath and the coffee."  Jeb took a sip.  "I would have made some myself, if I'd had any water.  It's been a cold winter so far."

            "Not here," Genevieve gently corrected.  Between Jeb's comments and his knocking on everyone's door, she could certainly tell he wasn't a local man.  "Where are you originally from?" she asked.  "Down South?"

            "Yes."  He grinned.  "I guess the accent gives me away every time."  The grin faded.  "Nate's mother died last year, and I lost my job.  I had to find work, so we ended up here a few months ago.  My new job's great, but..."

            "It must have been rough on the two of you," she said with sympathy.

            "Nate's had a bad time of it," was all he'd admit.  "We both miss the down-home hospitality.  Back there I'd never hesitate to knock on neighbor's door and ask for help.  Here..."

            "It just isn't done.  I know."

            Jeb grimaced.  "Talk about your culture shock."

            "You'll do okay."

            "I worry about Nate.  He's been very withdrawn since his mother died, and leaving all his friends didn't help.  Nate looked like his old self when he saw your rabbit."

            "Well, he's welcome to visit us any time." She was aware of his gaze she stroked her pet's soft fur.

            "Your roommate won't mind?"

            Genevieve smiled at his obvious probing, but she didn't mind answering.  "There's no husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend living here.  It's just me and my rabbit."

            "Don't you have any friends?" Jeb asked after a pause.

            "Sure I do.  But most of them are still at the university.  I just graduated, so I don't run into most of them."

            "Maybe you should get to know the people here in the building better."  His face lit up with excitement.  "Hey, maybe I could have a combination open house-Thanksgiving dinner for our floor.  What do you think?"

            Genevieve merely smiled at his naivete.

            "Bad idea?"

            "It's a lovely thought, but I don't know," she said, trying to let them down easily.

            "I'll plan on it anyway.  I have two weeks.  That's plenty of time to throw an-old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner together."  He stood up.  "I'd better go check on my son."

            Genevieve shook her head as the two of them, minus Nate's coating of dirt, left a short time later.  Jeb was going to be disappointed if he actually expected a crowd to show up.  He had a lot to learn about the city.  Still, she couldn't help admiring his spirit, especially as the days went by and Jeb put his plan into action.

            He posted fliers in the laundry room and the mail room.  He made a special effort to try to speak to everyone on his floor.  He even asked Genevieve's advice on the best grocery story to buy a Thanksgiving turkey.

            "I wish I could find a fresh one, like back home," he said one evening as Nate played on the rug with Loppy.  There'd been a lot of cozy evenings with the three of them lately.  "Isn't there someplace that doesn't just sell frozen?"

            Genevieve laughed.  "If there is, you're asking the wrong person.  I'm having Chinese take-out for Thanksgiving dinner."

            Jeb was quiet for a moment.  Then, "Aren't you coming, either, Genevieve?"

            Genevieve sighed.  "I wanted to."

            "But?"

            Genevieve dropped her eyes and missed the intense look he was giving her.  "I can't afford to fly home for the holidays, so I volunteered to work the full week.  Someone has to, and I didn't know I'd have a holiday invitation."

            "Can't you get out of it?"

            "No, I'm sorry."

            "Damn, so am I."

            "Save me a drumstick, okay?  And a piece of pie."

            "Will do."

            "One more thing.  I don't want to hurt your feelings, but don't be disappointed if you don't get a big crowd."

            "Maybe you could help me out--help convince people to show up."

            "I'm sorry, Jeb.  But I'm not really comfortable with that."  She didn't miss his disappointment.  "I'll keep my fingers crossed for you, though," she said.

            Crossed fingers weren't enough.  Genevieve hated the days that followed.  One by one the Thanksgiving day fliers Jeb posted in the building were first disfigured by graffiti, then ripped down altogether.  She knew Jeb didn't blame her, but he wasn't happy either.  He was polite to her in the building, but there was no real sparkle in his eyes.  Nate came over to visit Loppy alone for a few times, and then even those visits were so short she wondered if they would end completely.

            Genevieve was miserable.  Her evenings with popcorn and remote control again were pure torture.  Even Loppy's furry presence couldn't comfort her.

            The Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving Genevieve heard a knock on her door.  Hoping it was Jeb, she rushed over and yanked it open without even bothering to use the peephole or chain.

            "Nate!" she said happily, her happiness fading somewhat when she saw that Nate was alone.  "Come on in!  What can I do for you?"

            Nate stepped inside.  "I wanted to give you this."  He handed her a homemade card made out of lots of construction paper and even more paste.  "We made them in school.  It's a hand turkey."

            Genevieve smiled.  She could see the tracing of Nate's hand in the bright red paper, and the orange and yellow feathers glued to the tips of his traced fingers.  A tiny beak and eyes had been drawn on the thumb and two stick legs added below.

            "This is great!"  Genevieve gave Nate a big hug, glad to see that Nate didn't squirm and try to get away.  "Thanks, Nate.  I'll put this up on my refrigerator while you say hi to Loppy.  I'll be right back."

            Nate shyly nodded.  He scampered over to the couch and the throw pillows that was Loppy's usual location.

            "So how's your dad's party shaping up for tomorrow?" Genevieve called out.

            "He's not having the party," Nate replied.

            "He's not?"  Genevieve hurried back into the living room.  "What happened?"

            Nate shrugged.  "No one wanted to come.  So we're leaving."

            Genevieve's heart stopped.  "Leaving?"

            Nate nodded.  He carefully lifted Loppy's ears and unsuccessfully tried to get them to stand.  "Yep.  Dad doesn't like it here.  Genevieve, how come Loppy's ears don't stick up like regular rabbit ears?"

            "You're leaving?" Genevieve said hoarsely, ignoring Nate's question.  "You're both going back home?"

            "Uh-huh.  Dad's packing, so I came over to say good-bye.  And give you my turkey card."  Nate gently lowered the gray ears back to the side of Loppy's head.

            Genevieve bit her lip hard to keep it from shaking.  "When are you going?" she managed to ask.

            "As soon as Dad packs.  He said I could only stay a little bit."

            Her voice was a ghost of its usual self.  Jeb wasn't even going to say good-bye? 

            Nate stood up, Loppy still in his arms.  "I'm gonna miss Loppy.  I wish I had a rabbit."

            Genevieve leaned over and kissed Nate on the cheek.  Her chest felt like a ton of bricks was on it, and her throat hurt.

            "You'd better get going, then."  It wasn't until Nate passed her Loppy and left that she knew she couldn't let them leave just yet.

            Genevieve ran to her bedroom and dug out her animal carrier from the closet.  She placed Loppy inside a soft blanket, then added food and water for the trip.  A few minutes she knocked on Jeb's door, cage in hand.

            Jeb opened his door.  "Genevieve?  What's up?"

            "Hi, Jeb," Genevieve placed her pet's cage on the floor.

            "Are you leaving, too?" Nate asked curiously.

            "No," Genevieve replied, her attention only on Jeb.  "But since you're leaving, I wanted Nate to have Loppy."

            Nate danced with excitement.  "I can keep him?"

            "Yeah.  He'll be happier in the country.  The landlord doesn't want me to have him, anyway.  Nate loves him.  So I thought, since you two were leaving for good..."  She couldn't finish the sentence.  Her voice was breaking.  So was her heart.  Genevieve gestured toward the cage.  "Write and let me know how she's doing, okay?  I'll miss her--and you and Nate."

            Jeb stared at her.

            "But Genevieve, Nate and I aren't leaving for good."

            "You aren't?"  Now it was Genevieve's turn to be confused.  "But Nate came to say good-bye.  He said you were going home."

            "Home for the holidays."

            "Oh.  I thought--"  Suddenly Genevieve was mortified.  "Never mind.  I'd better let you finishing packing," she said with red cheeks.  She picked up Loppy's crate, and headed toward the door.

            "So I don't get to keep Loppy?" Nate said, disappointed.

            "Hush, Nate.  Wait, Gen, don't go!  You thought I was leaving forever?  Were you coming after me?"

            Genevieve was too upset to hear the intense emotion in his voice.  She was too busy wishing big hole would open up in the ground and swallow her up.

            "Please look at me."

            Genevieve closed her eyes and ducked her head, her hand tight on Loppy's handle.

            How could I have been so stupid?

            "Sweetheart, please!" Jeb urged.  "I didn't care about the party as much as I cared that you wouldn't come.  I wanted you with us for the holidays.  Up until the last minute, I hoped you'd want to do the potluck with me.  When you said you wouldn't, I thought I'd go home after all, but I'm coming back after Thanksgiving.  I never dreamed you cared so much for Nate that you'd give him your pet."

            "Of course I care!  He's a good kid.  Like his father.  I--I should get going."  Still carrying Loppy, she headed for his door.

            "Wait!  What about Loppy!" Nate demanded to know.  "Do I get to keep her or not?"

            "No, Nate," Jeb said.

            "Why don't the four of us go home together?  There's room in the car for them," Nate urged.

            "She has to work.  I'm sorry, Jeb."

            Genevieve suddenly made her choice.  She set Loppy firmly down on the carpet.

            "I'll tell them I can't make it."

            "But...what about your boss?"  His face flickered with hope.

            "I'll call in sick.  Bad stomach flu.  I can’t make it," she repeated.  Nothing, not even her job, was as important as this moment.  She bravely met his gaze.  What she saw in his face set her heart racing.

            "My mother cooks a mean turkey," Jeb said with a huge smile.  His hands reached for hers.  "And she always makes too much.  She'd love to have an extra guest.  Right, Nate?"

            "Two guests!"

            "So you'll come home with us, Genevieve?"

            Genevieve returned his smile with a shy one of her own.  "If your mother likes pet rabbits."

            "My mother loves rabbits."

            "I love rabbits!" Nate sang out.

            "I’ll get you a pet rabbit,” his father promised.

            "But I want this one," Nate stubbornly insisted.

            "I do, too.  Maybe we can make Loppy a family rabbit, son, because I also love rabbit owners.  Genevieve's a good mom to Loppy.  Maybe she could be your mom, too?"

            Genevieve gasped, but felt her heart race with joy.  Jeb kissed her lightly on the lips.

            "Think you can live with that?" Jeb asked, his eyes warm, waiting for her answer.

            "I can!" Nate chimed in.

            "Oh, Jeb..."  Genevieve let him pull her close for a hug and sighed happily.  "Loppy would love it--and so would I.  Happy Thanksgiving!"

 

              THE END

             As children, my son and daughter had two silver French Lop rabbits as pets.  Their names?  Loppy and Airy!