Mrs. Headsworth shoves Henry’s leash into my hand. “He needs to be taken out every hour. Do you understand me, Cornelia? Or do I need to write this down? Is it too early for me to be giving oral directions?”
“Four in the morning isn’t early for me, Mrs. Headsworth, I’m fine, but thank you for your concern.”
She scratches the black lab’s white muzzle. “And his treats,” she pushes the tub of biscuits at me, “lots of treats.”
Henry begins to wag his tail, his large brown eyes rolling toward the tub.
I smile and assure her he’ll be taken care of before Henry and I walk her back to her car.
The old boy waddles painfully beside me, the slightest whimper escaping him and it becomes clear that instead of giving him the treats, I should hide them.
I pat his head. “Don’t worry, boy, she’s only gone for a week and all your old buddies are here.”
Settling him into his room with his bed and toys I scoot over an inch or two to check on Cutter, then Marley, then Rambo, then Hopper, and on down the line of this week’s guests. After what feels like the hundredth water bowl I’ve filled, I stand and stretch my back. “Are we going to have a fun time, everyone?”
A chorus of yaps and howls is the reply. I think that’s a yes and I can’t help but grin. Over the chatter I just catch the phone ringing in the front office. I run to answer it.
“Cornelia’s Inn. Cornelia speaking, how may I help you?”
“Hello, you’re my last hope. I’d like to book rooms for five, please.”
I grab my ledger and scan down the column. “I’m sorry, sir, I only have room for four more, but—” I bite my lip, thinking of my gas and electric bills, “if two of them are small and get along well I might be able to room them together in one of the larger—”
“Small?” The man says, “Well, my wife and I aren’t particularly small, but we will be sharing a room, if that helps.”
“Your wife?” Pulling away, I frown at the receiver.
“Yes, we’re visiting her family for the holiday’s, but her cheapskate brother wants me to pay him rent! So I—”
“Sir, I’m so sorry, but this is a dog hotel, I don’t—”
“What kind of a moron doesn’t state that information in their add?”
“Sir? Hello?” I run a hand through my hair, only to remember I had put it back in a braid which my fingers are now snarled in. Great. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. “It was stated, if you’d looked below the big letters.”
Within another five minutes I’ve booked the last of my rooms, but the phone keeps ringing. After another half hour my ears begin to ring, even when the phone isn’t. Between the barking and the angry guests I’m turning away, all of my cheer runs down the drain with the dog pee.
“No, ma’am,” I say to ninth person today, “I’m sorry, we don’t take cats—”
“It doesn’t say that anywhere in your add!”
“It does state that in the—”
“This is discrimination! Give me one good reason you won’t take my precious baby.”
“I’m allergic to cats.”
“You’re lying. No one is—”
“Goodbye ma’am, and Merry Christmas.” I drop the receiver back into its cradle. “That poor kitty.” Rubbing my eyes, I roll my shoulders and my collie, Scout, leans against my leg. I check the wall clock and wonder where the last eight hours went. “What do you say to a picnic for lunch?”
Her ears perk up.
“Okay, baby, grab my lunch pail and we’ll meet you in the yard.” I laugh as her billowing tail disappears around the corner, her nails clicking against the tile. “Someone needs a pedicure.” I sigh. One more thing to do.
I set the main phone to forward any calls and grab all fourteen leashes. I hook up each pooch and lead the whole howling pack down to the fenced-in acre. There’s a nip in the air and I hold back the three Chihuahuas to put on the sweaters their owners had insisted on. “I’m sorry, boys,” I say.
Tobias bites my hand, Alvin snarls, and George lifts his leg. Thankfully, like most men, he has poor aim.
Retreating to the sunny side of the utility shed, I settle down with Scout to eat my lunch, and watch them play.
I scratch behind Scout’s ears and she licks at the bite mark on my hand.
“It’s okay, girl, how would you like it if I tried to put a sweater on you?”
She tilts her head before sneezing.
Lumbering over, Henry lays down beside me and lets out a long sigh.
“You feeling okay, boy?” I scratch his head and he closes his eyes. Looking up, I notice a woman in a long dark coat standing by the far gate. A shawl covers her head. “We don’t have anymore room,” I say, but by her lack of response, I know she didn’t hear me.
Pushing myself up off the ground, I dust off my pants as my phone rings. Rolling my eyes, I check the screen and chuck the phone into the grass. I only make it a few steps before Scout is nosing the palm of my hand with my phone in her mouth. “No girl, leave it alone. It’s just your aunt Plum. You know I don’t talk to her anymore.” I toss the phone again. I keep walking toward the far gate, and Scout is right on my heels with the phone.
“I’m sorry,” I say, again, when I’m close enough to the woman.
My voice startles her. Her eyes catch mine and her face blanches.
Scout sniffs the air between us, her ears flattening, her teeth bared. Crouching, she lets out a warning growl.
To be continued….