Marianne Arkins

No matter the decade, always Happily Ever After





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Lost Sheba

By Marianne Arkins

Olivia mumbled a protest as the morning sun pried its warm fingers under her leaden eyelids, closed only a few hours before. She stretched like a cat, back arched, toes pointed. It didn’t seem that long ago when she could play all night and still pop out of bed like she'd been ejected from a toaster. Not any more. Her stiff body protested the movement, and she dreaded facing the last of the moving boxes strewn throughout her new little cottage.

Maybe just a few more minutes, she decided and rolled onto her stomach in the hopes of snoozing just a bit more. A glance at the clock jolted her awake. Eight o’clock? Sheba never let her sleep past six or so.

“Sheba?” Olivia climbed out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen to peek out the paned glass of the cottage’s pretty back door into the small yard. "Sheba?" She rattled the flap on the doggy door with her bare foot, a gesture that seldom failed to get Sheba’s attention since it was typically followed up with treats.

Nothing. Worried, Olivia cracked the door open. The cool air rushing up her legs reminded her she was wearing only an old t-shirt. "Sheba!" She whistled softly. "Come here, baby."

Trying not to panic, she tugged the shirt down past her thighs and stepped into the backyard. It wasn’t big; she should be able to see the shepherd from here. Just around the corner of the house, she saw a pile of dirt revealing an excavation under the fence that looked to be just the size of her small German shepherd.

"Oh no!" She dropped to her knees and bent low to the ground in order to look through the hole. Sure enough, it led out to the front and onto the street. Since Sheba had access to the yard at any time, she could have been gone for hours.

Olivia dashed for her bedroom and pulled on the clothes she’d dropped beside her bed last night: jeans and sweatshirt, both worn yesterday while unpacking. Her hands were filthy from the dirt she'd knelt in outside but she just brushed them on her thighs and called them clean. Not quite the first impression she wanted to make with her new neighbors, but she had to choose between glamour and Sheba. It was no contest.

Sheba was Olivia’s baby – the only one that her ex-husband, Jeff, was willing to have, the main reason for the breakup of their ten-year marriage the year before.

Olivia had received their old house as part of the agreement, but just hadn’t been able to afford the upkeep. After struggling for ten months, she’d thrown in the towel, sold the house and bought this cottage. She'd never imagined that she would be forty, childless and single but she knew she was up to dealing with nearly anything life threw her way. Except losing Sheba.

Today was supposed to be the glorious beginning to her new life. Evidently, Sheba decided a more stressful beginning was in order.

Olivia spent the next hour knocking on doors and being grateful her new neighbors weren’t too put out about a rude, and early, Saturday morning awakening when she explained the problem. Unfortunately, no one had seen the dog.

She returned to the house, called the local shelter and left a message. The police were next, but they had no reports of a stray dog matching Sheba’s description.

Tamping down the panic that bubbled up inside her, Olivia tried to think like a dog. If she were Sheba, what would she do?

A slow smile filled Olivia’s face. Of course! Sheba would go home. Home to the only place she’d known. She may not find her way back to the cottage, but the house she’d lived in for the past six years—that would be a breeze.

Olivia ran for her sedan, grabbing her purse and keys as she dashed out the door. After plotting the most logical course across town, she drove each street slowly. Her window down, she called Sheba’s name and whistled, eyes peeled for any sign of the dog.

Forty-five minutes later, she pulled into her old driveway, feeling a twinge of regret for selling the quaint Victorian home. A rented moving van sat beside her in the driveway, and she hoped that meant the new owners were home.

The doorbell buzzed at the press of her finger, setting off a flurry of barking. Sheba? She urgently pressed the button again, desperate to find out if her dog was inside.

"Keep your shirt on!" A deep voice hollered through the door. She heard the sound of locks turning before a man’s face glared out at her. "Do you know what time it is?" His voice was rough, and goose bumps skittered up her spine at the sound.

"I’m so sorry." She tried to see around his body, but he was big enough to just about fill the doorway. "I’ve lost my dog."

He rubbed a hand across his face, scrubbing the day old beard on his skin. Olivia thought he looked barely old enough to shave, and was surprised at the amount of stubble that shadowed his chin. "I don’t think I’m quite awake yet, because I can’t figure out what that has to do with why you’re on my doorstep at the crack of dawn."

Olivia’s heart plummeted when a long haired mutt pushed past the man’s legs and sat at her feet with one paw lifted. Not Sheba. "I'd hoped that my dog had showed up here since it used to be my doorstep before Friday. I’m the old owner."

He stared at her, gaze running up and down. "Oh, not so old." He smiled and winked, and the look transformed his face. "Thanks for the house. We love it."

Her breath caught in her throat. Was he flirting? "We?" She couldn’t stop the word from jumping out of her mouth. Of course he was married. Why wouldn’t he be? It was the perfect house for a young family, the entire reason she’d wanted the house as a newlywed.

His smile widened and he poked a thumb at the mutt. "Me and George, here. And Gracie." He pulled the door open a bit wider to expose another small dog seated quietly beside him. "You really think your dog will show up here?"

"I don't know what else to think. She hasn't shown up anywhere else." Olivia knew she sounded breathless, and blamed it on panic, and not on the fact that this handsome, youthful man wasn't married after all. To hide her embarrassment at the attraction she felt for this stranger, she squatted down to pet his dogs.

“They’re adorable.” The smallest one, Gracie, stretched out her nose to sniff Olivia’s hand, but wouldn’t come closer.

"Tell me your dog’s name and what she looks like. I’ll keep my eyes open." He held out a hand to help her up. "I’m Drew, by the way."

"Olivia." She took his hand, wondering if she imagined that he held it just a bit longer than necessary. "Sheba’s a seven-year-old German shepherd, a little small for her breed, and sweet as sugar." Olivia dug through her purse and pulled out a slip of paper and a pen, scribbling her name and number on it. "Call me if you see her. Please. She’s all I have."

“I find that hard to believe.” Drew tipped his head to one side. “Someone like you has to have a boyfriend. Or husband.”

Olivia’s cheeks heated at his words. “Not anymore.” She pressed a hand, the same hand he’d held, to her chest and held out the paper with the other. “Call me? If you see Sheba, I mean.”

"The minute I do." His fingers brushed hers as he took the slip of paper. "And maybe even if I don’t.” He grinned. “Good luck."

She smiled over her shoulder as she walked away, and noted that he didn't close the door until she'd started her car and shifted into drive.

Olivia spent the day searching, to no avail. Unable to sleep, she finished unpacking and hanging the pictures on the wall. By dawn, she was exhausted and flopped on the sofa. It looked like home should look, except no dog was curled up in the easy chair. Her eyes drooped and she slipped into sleep.

The jangling phone jolted her from a dream and, heart pounding, she grabbed it off the hook. "Yes?"

"It's Drew. I've got her."

"Thank God, thank God," Olivia chanted into the phone. "I’ll be right there."

"Wait." His voice stopped her from hanging up the phone.

"What? Is she hurt?"

"No. It's just, there's the small matter of a reward."

"What? I never offered a reward." Olivia’s voice was hard. He’d seemed like a nice guy. She’d even been attracted to him. But, then, her judgment had been bad before. Regardless, if money was what it took to get her dog back, she'd pay any price.

"That’s true. But here’s the deal." He paused for long enough to make her start sweating. "You bring the coffee and donuts when you come over. I'm still waking up. And I’d love to have breakfast with you."

She smiled. Maybe she hadn’t been wrong after all. "Cream or sugar?"

"You're not getting off that easy. This is one great dog. I'll take a tall mocha latte with extra whipped cream and two jelly donuts."

Olivia laughed. "I'll be over in less than an hour."

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