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Four Bidding For Love (a novel)

Part 31: Next: A Friend Is Lost (12/15/12)

      Alexia's hands were trembling, and she gripped the steering wheel hard. It had been a terribly traumatic afternoon, and she wanted most of all to reach the comforts and solitude of her own home.
     The housesitting had started well enough, much like her previous stays at her friend's country home in Sonoma. No, that's not true, Alexia corrected herself; for unlike previous visits, when she'd welcomed the rural respite from the boutique, Alexia had been preoccupied with preparing for the upcoming collectibles extravaganza in Las Vegas and assembling the money to buy her friend's movie poster collection.
     In a seeming premonition, her friend had worried about how her aging dog RubiconóRuby for shortówould fare in her absence. Long acquainted with the friendly mixed-breed Labrador, Alexia had reassured her friend that Ruby would be fine, and for goodness sake, enjoy your vacation.
     Her face etched with misgivings, her friend had left, reminding Alexia that she would stop in New York a few days before going on to the continent. Alexia had turned to her few house-sitting duties with familiar pleasure, for the Sonoma Valley setting was indeed idyllic: gnarled rows of grapevines festooned with new leaves wound in lazy curves up the gentle hillsides, and the bright sun sparkled invitingly off the small seasonal pond which was slowly receding in May's delicious warmth. Bees swarmed around the abundant blue wisteria flowers hanging from the deck's trellis and the golden California poppies pushing their majestic glowing petals above the groundcover, and Ruby curled in old-dog comfort on the warm wooden deck beside sweet-smelling boxes of blooming violets.
     That was Thursday. Friday morning had opened with the same sunny promise, and Alexia looked forward to doing a bit of accounting and online auction-shopping after taking her customary walk with Ruby around the property. The day had warmed so quickly that Alexia had been obliged to change from jeans to a loose-fitting gold-and-green striped sundress which left her shoulders and calves gloriously bare to the California sun. With an eye on the rising heat, Alexia had donned her friend's broad-brimmed straw hat and roused Ruby for her walk.
     Despite the familiarity of every inch of the two acres, the dog seemed to enjoy the exploration as if it were her second such adventure rather than the thousandth.
     A shallow drainage swale led from the high land near the one-story bungalow down toward the seasonal pond, and as Alexia and the old dog started their companionable stroll, Alexia bent down to pick up of one Ruby's sticks from the grass-lined ditch where the dog had last dropped it. Adjusting her throw to compensate for the dog's advancing age, Alexia tossed the stick a short distance ahead and awaited Ruby's predictably happy retrieval.
     The dog set off in a slow lope for the stick and then seemed to stumble as she entered the shallow drainage swale. Reckoning the dog would rise smartly to her feet, Alexia called, "Come on, Rubyóget the stick."
     But to her surprise, the dog did not rise; Ruby lay twitching on the grass in obvious distress, and Alexia ran to the pet with the sickening awareness that something was terribly wrong.
     Ruby was still breathing, but unable to stand, and with great difficulty Alexia lifted the dog into the back seat of her car and then ran to get her phone and the emergency numbers her friend had left. As she drove down the winding gravel drive, dodging gnarled old oak trees on either side, she called the veterinarian clinic and received directions; her mind spinning with guilt over overtaxing the old dog and anxiety lest the beloved pet die, Alexia drove in haste to the vet and hurried in to elicit the staff's aid in bringing the stricken dog into the clinic.
     Her efforts were for naught, as Ruby passed from this life a short time later. The doctor reassured her it was a fairly painless end, and much better than a slow, crippling decline. In a voice quivering with sadness and culpability, Alexia asked if the exertion of a morning walk had triggered the aging dog's sudden demise. There was no telling, the vet replied, but the dog was very advanced in age and such a painless passing was a blessing.
     Steeling herself to the necessary but dreadful call to her friend, Alexia punched in the number and spilled the tragic news in a rush of regretful grieving. Her friend was calmer than Alexia had anticipated, but insisted on coming home to bury her cherished pet. This lifted a burden from Alexia, for she did not relish the task of interring Ruby. Her friend caught the next plane home and by late afternoon her car was pulling up the drive.
     Hugging her stricken friend, Alexia recounted the unhappy morning and then explained that the veterinarian was holding Ruby's body for her. Expressing weary relief that she hadn't been present for the trauma, her friend thanked Alexia for her efforts to save her pet and waved aside Alexia's lingering guilt with a sigh. "It was her time. She had a long life, and a good life."
     Short of the house burning down, a conclusion to her house-sitting worse than the death of dear old Ruby did not readily come to Alexia's mind, and she drove to San Francisco in a swirl of unhappy thoughts. Darkness settled over Northern California, and gripped by a bleak sense of failure, Alexia crossed the light-emblazoned Golden Gate Bridge and told herself, Once I get home, everything will be much, much better.
     Rolling up her window against the chill rising off the Pacific's cold waters below, Alexia turned on the sedan's heat and yearned afresh for the calm bliss of her quiet house and Hanover's soft padding step on the polished hardwood. A hot shower promised to wash away all the sweat and remorse of the day, and Alexia's distracted mind was only partially on her search for a parking place somewhere in her crowded neighborhood. I just want to go to bed, she sighed; and with assistance she could not possibly have anticipated, she was destined to get her wish.

Next: The picture of youth innocent of her own beauty (Chapter 11)

To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.

A note of thanks to those who buy a book: As an independent writer, book sales are a substantial part of my income. I receive no funding from any university, trust fund, think-tank, shadowy C.I.A. front or government agency. Thank you for throwing caution and rationality to the winds and buying my work.

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