Chapter 1. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
[Chapter 2 will be available on August 1]
The invitation that could change Vanessa's life was stuffed, unnoticed, with the rest of her mail in the overloaded briefcase under her arm. She struggled to get the key into the lock of the wood paneled door to her condo. Her damp, honey colored hair fell across her face as she tried with her other hand to control the leash attached to a wet and shaken dog she'd just rescued. At last the key clicked into place. She dragged herself and the frightened dog into the warm, welcoming, yellow front hall. Her foot caught in his trailing leash and she flopped onto the hard parquet floor. Her violet eyes looked at the shivering mass of dirty, white fur. “No good deed goes unpunished, right, Mr. Dog.”
He whimpered and sniffed her hand. She felt he was asking a bewildered 'who are you?'
“I could ask you the same.” Great. Now she was talking to dogs.
The scent of her Jergens hand lotion must have reassured him because he let her lift the ID tag attached to his red leather collar. Somehow the dog must have pulled his leash out of the hand of his owner or dog walker and ran away. The shiny brass disk was engraved Charles and gave a phone number. After reading it, she pushed herself off the floor.
“Don't worry, Charlie. We'll get you home as soon as I make this phone call.” Since they were both wet from the icy November rain, she hung her Burberry raincoat on a door hook and took him into the small, bright kitchen. She set out a bowl of water. When Charlie started lapping it up, she punched in the number on his tag.
“Lakeview Animal Clinic. This is Jackie,” answered a husky voice. Vanessa explained why she was calling. She had found the dog cowering at the stone steps to her brownstone building and wanted to locate its owner. When asked she gave her name and phone number. Jackie said she would check her records and either she or the dog's owner would get back to her.
While talking, Vanessa had carried the phone into her white, subway tiled bathroom. She pulled off her dark grey suit jacket and skirt, replacing them on the hangers she had left out when she got dressed that morning. The white cotton blouse went into a straw Mexican basket hamper. Since she didn't know if she'd have to go out again with Charlie, she decided not to get into her usual Nick and Norah pajamas, splashed with red cherries. She sighed and got into an old purple sweat shirt and pants, left over from her student days at Northwestern. Sylvia, her best friend, said she looked like a bloated grape in them, but they were comfortable and reminded her of happy college days.
She found an old blanket for the dog. She put it down in front of the refrigerator 'cause she thought he might like the warm air that always seemed to come out its bottom. It was a good thing Dan or 'Dumpling' Dan as Sylvia called him, was too busy to come over that night. It looked like her evening was going to be occupied with a dog. A frizzle of worry seeped through her mind. It seemed that Dan was always 'too busy' these days. Maybe their once hot romance was cooling off.
Her phone's ring tone signaled a call from Sylvia. Too bad it wasn't a call about the dog, she thought, but was glad to tell Sylvia about her Good Samaritan deed. While they went over the details of their busy days, Vanessa slid a frozen Gino's pizza in the microwave and set the timer. Whenever she used the microwave, she felt like saying, 'It's eazy peazy,' just as she did as a little girl with her Easy Bake oven that cooked with the heat from a light bulb.
A great multi-tasker she laughed at Sylvia's description of a new law client, waited for the pizza, and flicked through mail she had picked up, with some difficulty because of the dog, from the downstairs entry hall.
Nothing but bills and fliers, except "ooh, that's odd." She must have blurted it cause Sylvia asked, "What's odd?"
"Oh, sorry. I was thinking out loud. Flipping through the mail I finally got something interesting. It's a square, cream colored envelope and on the back it says "Chateau de Savigny". I think it's from France! Why would I be getting a letter from France?"
"Open it, open it," urged Sylvia.
"Hang on, while I get a knife." Vanessa slipped a red handled paring knife under the flap and opened the envelope. She slid out a stiff, heavy weight folded note card.
"The cover has an embossed picture of a chateau. Oh my gosh, I can't believe this."
"Well, don't get too excited. It's probably an invite to come down to the local wine shop for a sale on French wines."
"Don't be such a cynic. I think it's an exciting invitation to a romantic and adventurous weekend on the French Riviera. In fact, I need to believe that so I'm not going to open and read it. I don't want to have my dreams destroyed.
"Hey, you can't leave me hanging." protested Sylvia.
"You're going to hang, because my call waiting is clicking. It's probably the dog owner so I have to take it. Talk to you later."
It was Jackie from the animal clinic. "I'm sorry but we haven't been able to reach Charles' owner. We're closing the office now, in fact I stayed over so I could call you."
"But, but, what should I do with him?" He was a cute, quiet little guy, Vanessa thought, but she had no dog food or other doggy stuff.
"You could always call animal control and they'd take him to the pound." Jackie suggested.
Charlie looked up at Vanessa as if he knew an important life decision was being made for him.
"I...I couldn't do that." she stuttered.
"Could you possibly keep him until tomorrow when we'll do a further search for his owner?"
"I guess I could do that." Vanessa agreed. It was a good thing she'd put on the sweat suit. She'd have to take the dog out for a bathroom break.
The microwave beeped. The pizza was done and smelled delicious, of melted cheese, basil and sausage. She took some of the meat off the top, broke it up, and put it in Charlie's bowl. He looked at her in surprise.
"What's the matter? You're too good for pizza sausage?" She knew her near north side neighbors included plenty of wealthy pet owners, people who probably hired uncaring dog walkers, but still fed their pampered dogs steak. In her business she met lots of the very rich, who hired someone to do everything for them. Charlie may have been used to top sirloin, but he was a hungry animal. He gave a little arf and set to.
Vanessa sat on a tall kitchen stool while she ate her share of the pizza, drinking water instead of Coke, beer or wine. She was trying to cut down on calories, not that it seemed to do her waist line any good. Maybe she didn't really look like a bloated grape but she was beginning to feel like one.
The pile of mail called to her and she idly went through the rest of it. Set to the side, the card from France seemed to shine, its creamy surface reflecting the overhead light. She ignored it, wanting to continue her fantasy of a trip to France. Perhaps she was the long lost heir to a fortune. Or she'd won an all expense trip for a stay in Provence.
But even if the invitation was for something wonderful, she couldn't leave her job, or Dan, could she? And now, what about Charlie?
[To be continued on August 1.]