Wedding Bell BluesBy: Meg Benjamin
“My dad always called himself a coonass, though.” Her smile dimmed slightly. “He was proud of it.”
Pete nodded and tried to think of something halfway intelligent to say about coonasses. Fortunately for them both, his cell phone chirped before he came up with anything. He flipped it open, expecting to see the office number, only to see Cal’s number instead.
“Hey, Pete!” Cal’s voice sounded absurdly cheerful. Pete was willing to bet he was grinning again. “Come on over to the clinic. I need my hired gun.”
Pete grunted his assent and folded the phone into his pocket. “What’s the best route to Cal’s clinic from here? Drive up Main?”
Janie shook her head. “You can walk it. Go up Spicewood and cut over on Berman. The clinic’s on West Street.”
“Okay.” He wondered if he should say anything else, maybe something about Louisiana or her dad or Cajuns. Except he didn’t have anything coherent to say about any of those things. “Well, see you later,” he mumbled.
Janie had already turned away to greet a customer as he headed out the door.
Oh yeah, that little encounter had gone really well. Clearly, he was a regular chick magnet.
Cal’s veterinary clinic was at the top of a small rise just off a shaded residential street. A large, blacktopped parking lot filled the space behind it, spilling over into the lot next door. Right now the lot was packed with pickup trucks and SUVs—apparently, the veterinary business was booming.
Pete swung through the door. At the front counter a middle-aged brunette in multicolored scrubs was taking information from a woman with a vicious-looking poodle. The dog gave him a threatening glance, growling low in its throat. He gave it a wide berth.
A large crowd, mostly female, sat in the waiting room clutching their pets, a wide variety of dogs in various shapes and sizes, most of them yapping. The women’s eyes seemed to follow Pete as he walked across the room, although he had a feeling he wouldn’t catch anybody looking directly at him if he turned around.
The brunette glanced up and grinned. “You’ve got to be Cal’s brother,” she said, raising her voice to be heard over the general din. “Unless there’s a convention of large, hunky men in town.”
Pete nodded at her. “I’ll accept the large part, anyway. Pete Toleffson, best man in training.” He extended a hand.
She gave it a quick shake. “Bethany Kronk. I’m actually a bridesmaid myself, bless Docia’s soft heart. Cal’s waiting for you in the back—through there.”
Pete headed for the door, feeling several pairs of eyes boring into his back as he did. He didn’t normally get this kind of reaction. Probably just curiosity about Toleffsons, or more likely about Cal and Docia.
The back of the clinic was a hall lined with doors. From behind one, he could hear more muffled barking. Cal leaned against one of the doorjambs, watching him approach and grinning.
This whole happiness thing was really getting out of hand. Pete might have to punch him.
“Hey, bro, you got here fast!”
Pete shrugged. “What’s up?”
“Got a mission for you.” Cal started down the hall toward the door with the barking.
The barking grew louder as Cal opened the door. Inside, Pete saw a row of cages filled with dogs, a few barking enthusiastically as they saw people. The room was bright with sunlight, the concrete floors immaculate, everything white and gray and sterile.
Pete raised his voice to be heard over the barks. “Patients?”
Cal nodded. “Most of them. A few are being boarded. Then we’ve got some adoptees.” He stopped in front of one cage as Pete stepped up beside him.
A dog stared back at them, silently, eyes wide. Its ears were flat against its head, tail tucked between slender legs.
The greyhound was an odd combination of brown and white, almost in stripes. “What’s wrong with its color?”
“Nothing.” Cal raised an eyebrow. “It’s called brindle—they’re supposed to look like that.”
The dog turned wary eyes on Pete, as if he’d been judged and found wanting.
He sighed. “So what do you want me to do? Clean its cage?”
Cal shook his head, opening the cage door. The greyhound moved toward him tentatively. “She’s an ex-racer. I’m adopting her. Only I can’t take her home until after the honeymoon.” He reached forward and rubbed the dog’s ears.
“Can’t she wait? You’re only going to be gone a couple of weeks.”
The greyhound moved into Cal’s hand, letting herself be stroked. He leaned forward to murmur into the dog’s ear, then turned back to Pete. “Greyhounds are sensitive. They need a lot of reassurance. Particularly ex-racers. They’re not used to being outside a box.”