All I Ever Wanted

Page 16


Her mouth tightened briefly, but she covered with a quick smile. “Well, I’ll probably see you down there, at any rate. Great! Thanks for staying with poor Callie! You’re a prince.” She made a move toward him, almost like she was going to hug him, but Ian just stood, hands still in his pockets, and Fleur retreated. The sound of her hiking boots faded within seconds.
Ian sat down next to me. “You okay?”
“I’m great, Ian,” I lied. “You don’t need to stay with me.”
“Can I take your pulse?” he asked.
“No. I’m fine. It’s just…I skipped lunch. That’s all. I really don’t need a nurse. Or a vet.”
He didn’t answer, just stared off into the woods, which were lovely, dark and deep, just as Robert Frost said, and unlike the poet, I wouldn’t have minded going to sleep right now.
The only sound was birdsong, the rustle of the wind in the pines and Bowie’s slight snore. The alien seemed to be quieting down (please, God), and the sweet and piney breeze seemed to blow away that sick, foggy feeling bit by bit. My stomach emitted a small groan, but nothing like before.
“Maybe you could eat some grass and throw up,” Ian suggested. “Works for dogs.”
I glanced at him. He was still looking off into the woods, and I studied his craggy profile. “Thanks for the tip,” I said. “I don’t suppose you have any Tums or anything.”
“Sorry,” he said, cutting his eyes to me.
I felt heat rise in my face. Those eyes were startlingly direct. “So, are you from around here, Ian?” I asked.
“I moved here from Burlington two months ago,” he said.
“Where’d you grow up?”
He looked back into the woods. “All over.”
“Army brat?” I guessed.
“No.” He didn’t elaborate.
“So,” I said after realizing he was done with that subject. “Fleur invited you to our little thing.”
“Yes,” he said, reaching down to pet Bowie, whose tail thumped appreciatively. “I was under the impression that it was more of a town-sponsored thing. Open to the public.”
“Oh. Well, sorry for ruining it for you,” I murmured.
“I can’t believe anyone would buy something called Cleanse ’n Purge,” he commented, raising an eyebrow.
Ah, dang it. Humiliation and me—no bounds. “Bowie, would you please bite Dr. McFarland?”
Bowie rolled onto his back. Here’s my stomach, in case anyone’s in a scratching mood, he was clearly saying. I obliged, since I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
My GI distress seemed to have subsided. “I should probably head down,” I said. “I’m feeling better. Thanks for waiting. You can join the others.”
“I’ll walk with you,” he said, surprising me. He stood up, offered his hand and, after a second, I took it.
It was a good hand, callused and warm and strong, what you’d expect from a man who made animals better. A current of electricity ran up my arm and straight to my groin, and it took me a moment to realize that Ian had let go, though my hand was still extended. Blushing yet again, I put said hand to use, grabbed Bowie’s leash and started down the path.
“This is a beautiful spot,” Ian said.
“You should come back,” I said. “Think that view’s pretty now, wait about six weeks.”
We walked along in companionable silence, my stomach still somewhat sore but without the lancing pain of earlier. Bowie sniffed and tugged until I decided to let him off the leash, so he could bound ahead.
“Nice dog,” Ian said.
“Thanks. How’s Angie? She’s not a hiker?”
“I didn’t realize dogs were allowed,” he said. “But she’s fine. Thank you.”
I swatted at a few mosquitoes, which were attracted to my sweat, as I was clad in plastic. Something BTR’s research and development might want to work on. I glanced at Ian, who looked as cool as if we were in Siberia. Those Arctic eyes were just about the same color as the sky today. Ian was tall, too, about six-two, and I had a sudden urge to see him without his shirt. Bet it was nice under that shirt. Bet he looked pretty damn—
“So. Your boss. Mark,” Ian said, interrupting my lustful thoughts. “That was the guy you were crying over in the DMV?”
My jaw clenched. My stomach, too, resulting in another gurgle. “Yes,” I said tightly. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason. It was a memorable day, that’s all.”
“Indeed,” I muttered. He didn’t say anything else. A mockingbird trilled above us. My stomach twinged as if answering, but no sounds emerged, thankfully. “Do you have any siblings, Ian?” I asked after a few minutes of silence.
He glanced at me as if assessing my ulterior motive in such a devious and personal question. “Um…yes. I do. Alejandro.”
“Ooh, I love that name! Wasn’t Zorro’s name Alejandro?”
“I don’t know.” His mouth pulled up one side.
“Alejandro McFarland. I wouldn’t put those two names together.”
“We have different fathers. His last name is Cabrera.”
“Better,” I said. “Is he gorgeous? He sounds gorgeous.” I was rewarded by a quick smile, complete with attractive laugh lines fanning out from his rather shockingly lovely eyes. Pleased, I blushed a little and looked away.
“Callie,” Ian said, “when you mentioned doing some PR for me, how would that work?”
Well, knock me over with a feather! “Is business down?”
“A little,” he said, not looking at me. “What did you have in mind when you came into the office that day?”
I had nothing in mind, Ian, as I was, in fact, checking you out. “Um, well…basically, we’d make you seem really…approachable.” He didn’t say anything. “I’m sure you’ve heard people tell you over and over again how great and sweet and wonderful Dr. Kumar is, which is all absolute fact. So, of course, you’re going to look a little, er, frosty compared to him. Don’t worry. We’ll make people like you.”
He gave me a veiled look. “By which you’ve just implied that people currently don’t.”
“Oops.” I laughed. “No, no. Well, we’ll make them like you more. Don’t worry. That’s a specialty of mine.”
He said nothing.
“See, we’d turn you—Ian, this standoffish guy who dislikes single women—into the human equivalent of a golden retriever. Warm, fuzzy, affectionate. The warm and fuzzy campaign. It’ll be great!”
“I don’t dislike single women, Callie,” he said coolly. “I just don’t appreciate them wasting my time by pretending to have a sick animal.”
“Touché, Dr. McFarland,” I answered. “Not that I’m copping to anything, of course.”
“Nor do I want to pretend to be something I’m not,” he continued, his words clipped. “I’m a capable vet. That should be enough.”
“Right, Ian. But if business is slacking off, then you might just have to…market yourself differently. Not be different. Just try a little harder, because I’m guessing that while you’re smart and know your vet stuff, maybe you’re not so, um…relaxed with people.”
He didn’t say anything, and I got the impression that I had hit a nerve. His eyelashes, which I heretofore hadn’t properly noticed, were blond. Blond and quite thick, really, which I could see as the sun was shining right on them.
“I could do it freelance,” I offered. “It would cost less, and it could be our guilty secret that way.” Actually, I’d have to check with Mark on that, but I was pretty sure it would be okay. The agency didn’t charge less than a couple thousand per account, and Ian’s little project would be far smaller than that.
He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then finally spoke. “I’ll think about it,” he said.
“You do that,” I replied.
Ah, heaven. There was the end of the trail, and better still, the parking lot. My beloved Lancelot waited to take me home, where all the modern conveniences awaited. I’d have time to shower, beautify and change before meeting everyone for dinner. “Thanks for staying with me, Ian,” I said, clipping Bowie’s leash back onto his collar.
“You’re welcome,” he said. He stood with his arms folded, legs slightly apart, sort of like a sea captain on the deck of a frigate. Rather appealing, really.
“Bye,” I said.
“Bye,” he replied, and with that, I tugged on Bowie’s leash and bolted for my car.
“BOOM-BOOM-BOOM, GOTTA get-get!” I sang the following week.
“Boom-boom-boom, gotta get-get!” my students obligingly echoed, much to my delight. Of course, this was our seventh time through the song, and so far, only Jody Bingham had the moves down.
I’d taken a vacation day today; it was the after-school Brownie field trip, and I’d swung by the Senior Center for lunch (small town, not much going on, people who liked to see my smiling face…you get the picture). My yoga ladies had been clucking in dismay… Leslie hadn’t shown up for the Senior Citizen Flex class. Loath to miss an opportunity to be a jewel, I plugged my iPod into the stereo and was teaching my very first hip-hop lesson. See, much to the pity and disgust of Kiara, my college roommate who happened to be a dance major from Trinidad, I knew a few moves—oh, yeah. Uh-huh. Clearly, I was the hippest white girl in the state of Vermont (which wasn’t saying much, but still).
I crisscrossed my arms, looking very gangsta, I was sure. “Side, step, kick, back! Again! Don’t forget those arms!” I said, doing my best impression of a young and very cool person. Not a great impression, mind you, but considering my audience, I might as well have been Soulja Boy. “Boom-boom-boom!”
“Boom-boom-boom!” the ladies echoed.
“Watch that hip, Mary!” I shouted over the music. “Don’t want to lose your investment! Carol, look at you, you trashy thing! You got it, girl!”
Our rather different style of music (Leslie chose that drippy harp and flute stuff designed to make you either narcoleptic or homicidal) had drawn quite a crowd. In the back were about a dozen appreciative senior males, including, I was shocked to see, Noah. He stood in between Josephine, who was dancing quite competently and putting us all to shame, and Bronte, who was clearly suffering a moment of adolescent humiliation the likes of which the world had never seen, thanks to her auntie. I pointed at her and increased my swagger as I shuffled and hopped, earning a magnificent eye roll as a prize.
When the song was over, I staggered over to the stereo and turned off the music. “That was great, ladies! Next you’ll all be dancing in some rap video on VH1!”
My peeps laughed, clearly delighted with their new status, then grabbed towels to wipe the sweat from their wrinkled brows.
“How’s work, Callie?” Jody asked, stretching her arms behind her back as if they were rubber bands.
“Work’s…it’s fine,” I said, almost telling the truth.
After the hike last week, we’d all had a merry dinner with Muriel’s dad and his minions. Charles had made sure I sat next to him, and it seemed like a great success. My defection was made light of (I stuck with the no-lunch theory), and we’d all laughed and swapped stories and had a great time. Except that Muriel kept shooting me evil looks across the table, which I resented. It wasn’t like I was about to wrestle her dear old dad to the floor and have my way with him…he just seemed to be one of those flirty older men who enjoyed women. When I failed to show the proper contrition, she employed a more effective strategy…kissing Mark. That one…that one worked.
I shook off the memory. Mark could be with Muriel if he wanted to. I was supposed to be moving on.
“So you’re happy there?” Jody asked.
“Sure,” I answered. “You bet.”
“Well. Good for you, hon. See you soon, I hope.” She squeezed my arm, eliciting a little wince on my part, then walked over to Noah, smiling her big smile. Yeah. Good luck, Jody, I thought. Noah would eat a baby before even looking at someone who wasn’t Gran.
“That was so much fun,” Elmira Butkes said, coming up for a little chat. “You’ll have to teach us more next week. Yoga is such a bore compared to this. I loved that music! The Black-Eyed Susans, you said?” She fished around in her giant pink vinyl purse and withdrew a notepad and pen.
“Peas. Black-Eyed Peas,” I answered, hoping her hearing aid hadn’t picked up the obscenity-strewn lyrics. “But I can’t really teach. That was the only dance I know. I’m a one-trick pony.”
“No!” she cried staunchly. “You’re so talented.”
“You’re really not,” Bronte said as she approached. “You shouldn’t ever dance in public again, Callie. I’m totally serious. Plus, you’re, like, way too old to listen to the Black-Eyed Peas.”
I feigned outrage. “I am not! I’m young and incredibly cool. Besides, who introduced you to them in the first place, huh? I’ve liked Fergie since she was first dating Leo from All My Children, thank you very much!”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Whatever, Callie.”
“What are you doing here, sweetie?” I asked.
“Mom still won’t let me get off the bus alone, so I had to go to Noah’s because Grammy was, like…working.” My niece shuddered. “And Noah had to drop Josie off with you, and I had to come because no one in this family, like, acknowledges the fact that I’m way too old to be dragged around like chattel.”