Make it a double, p.7
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       Make It a Double, p.7

         Part #2 of Last Call series by Sawyer Bennett
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Page 7

  Chapter 6

  Alyssa

  My eyes sting terribly, the effort to hold my tears back causing the prickle of pain.

  I rub my hand over the top of Jethro’s head, down behind one of his ears, and under his chin. His body has grown cold, and I know I need to get him taken care of. But for some reason, I stay where I am… sitting on the hard, concrete floor, petting a dog that is far better off now than he was last night when I left him.

  When he wouldn’t eat the chicken and rice I made for him, I suspected.

  When his eyes looked dull and lifeless while I sat by his side last night, I pretty much knew.

  He didn’t have much time left.

  I stayed with him until almost midnight, stroking his fur and listening to his shallow breaths. I didn’t get so much as a tail thump from him. So, when I left last night to try to get a few hours of sleep before the start of my next day, I was pretty confident it was the last time I would see Jethro alive. I covered him up with a blanket and murmured some soft words before I headed home.

  It wasn’t a surprise to me at all that I walked in this morning before the sun had even fully risen, and he was gone.

  To Rainbow Bridge… a much better place than the here and now.

  Sliding my legs out from under me, I come up to my knees and lean over Jethro one last time. I press a kiss to the top of his head. “Goodbye, old man. ”

  This is something I’ve done on more than one occasion, and it never gets easier. Letting them go, only being able to comfort myself that they had a warm place to live, a loving touch, and food in their belly before they died.

  Using my hands to push myself up from the concrete, I turn toward the cage door and yelp when I see Brody standing there. He has both hands raised and holding onto the cage fencing above his head, a stance that causes his t-shirt to ride up his stomach, exposing smooth skin and a tiny bit of hair that disappears into the waistband of his jeans.

  Staring at me with knowing eyes, he nods down at Jethro. “He gone?”

  “Yeah,” I say, my voice hoarse. “I think he was just tired and ready to let go. ”

  Opening the cage, I step through just as Brody lowers his hands, shoving them in his pockets. I start to close the gate behind me, but then realize there’s no need. Jethro’s not going to escape.

  Turning to Brody, I c**k my head to the side. “What are you doing here?”

  His eyes bore into mine, still a bit dull but not as cold as they normally are. “I’m here to volunteer. ”

  My eyebrows rise up on their own accord. “Volunteer?”

  I’m sure I heard him wrong, because this was something he was adamantly opposed to not that long ago. Oh say, right around the time he called me a snotty, rich bitch heiress. A moniker that still stings when I think about it, and that makes me pissed off at him all over again.

  “Sorry,” I tell him as I turn away. “I don’t need any help. ”

  Brody is fast… I’ll give him that. I don’t get half a step away before his arm shoots out and takes ahold of my wrist.

  His hand is large and warm as it circles mine, ever so gently but still iron clad.

  “You do need help,” he says calmly. “Lots of it… if yesterday was any indication. ”

  I look at him a moment, and then pull my wrist away. He lets me go immediately, and the loss of his touch actually bothers me slightly. “Maybe so, but I don’t need it from you. ”

  Not even bothering to see the look on his face to my comment, I head to the storage room to get what I need to bury Jethro. When I open the door and step through, I can feel his presence behind me. It’s disconcerting that I can actually feel him… can feel vibes coming off him. Right now, I sense anger but also quiet determination.

  I tense, waiting for a fight. The Brody Markham that I’ve known for the past several weeks has been pretty much an ass**le, but I’ve dealt with plenty like him before. I can handle whatever he has to throw at me.

  He catches me off guard though when he says, “I’m sorry. ”

  Turning around quickly, I stare at him, my mouth hanging slightly open. “Sorry?”

  “For what I called you,” he clarifies, but I don’t need said clarification. My memory is quite good.

  “Yeah, I remember. ”

  “I misjudged you,” he says simply. “And I’m sorry for my harsh words. ”

  I wonder for a moment if I should let him off the hook that easy. His apology is genuine. There is remorse in his voice, and he has yet to try and make an excuse or blame something else for his actions. Lord knows, he has plenty of reasons to be an ass**le.

  However, he simply watches me, waiting to see if I’ll give him atonement.

  The pissed off part of me—the part that has spent much of her life trying to show the world that I am my own person and my money should not define me—wants to make him grovel a bit more. But the other part of me—the one that recognizes that Brody has been through things in his life that I will never be able to comprehend, and that he is probably struggling right now… Well, that’s the part that wins out, and I immediately decide to forgive him.

  “It’s okay,” I tell him softly. “I understand. ”

  His eyes freeze up a bit, and he mutters, “I doubt that you understand me, but I’d still like to help you out around here. ”

  Yeah, I probably don’t really understand him. I suppose I can only guess.

  Nodding my head, I turn back around. “Okay. How about go ahead and feed the dogs and the cats? You were feeding too much to some of them last time. Give a quarter of one of those scoops to the small dogs, half a scoop to the medium-sized dogs, and a full scoop to the large ones. Double check the water dishes, make sure they’re full. I have an automated watering system but it still needs eyeballed. When you’re done with that,” I tell him as I pull the wheelbarrow out, “you can start cleaning the cages. Put each dog out in the exercise yard while you clean. Solution, hose, and broom brush are in this storage room. If you get that done before I finish with Jethro, empty the cats’ litter boxes. You’ll see a disposal bin against the wall in their building. ”

  Pulling a pre-cut plastic tarp off one of the shelves, I also grab some cord, scissors, and the shovel. Brody backs up out of the doorway to give me room as I exit.

  “Are you burying Jethro?” he asks.

  “Yeah. When I’m done, I’ll have you help me with bathing the dogs… that is, if you have time to stay all day. ”

  “I have to be in to work at Last Call around seven tonight, so I can stay all day. ”

  “Good,” I tell him matter-of-factly. “I have plenty to keep you busy. ”

  “Let me bury Jethro for you,” he says quietly, stepping forward to intercept the items in my hands, his own stretched toward me.

  “No,” I tell him firmly. “This is something I do. It’s my responsibility. ”

  His gaze holds me for a moment, his eyes swimming in something that I can’t quite define. It’s like an understanding… an acknowledgment that he gets what I’m saying when I say it’s my duty. I can tell, just by the look on his face, that the concept of responsibility and obligation is something that is important to him. I find that intriguing and oddly attractive. Not that Brody needs help in the attractiveness department, but there’s clearly something there other than his stunning face and rock-hard body that a woman such as myself would find immensely appealing.

  I may not understand what Brody is going through, but it looks like we may share a basic acceptance of the importance of responsibility.

  “Okay, then,” he says softly. “Just yell if you need help. I’ll start on feeding the animals. ”

  “Thanks. I’ll teach you how to feed the horse when I’m done,” I tell him as an afterthought, but then I’m pushing past him and heading toward my truck.

  ***

  I kneel at the edge of the grave, looking down at Jethro’s tarp-wrapped body.
It took me just under an hour to dig it and my hands are throbbing, despite the thick work gloves I’m sporting. I know his spirit is gone, but it’s still painful having to put a dog in the ground. I know, intelligently, that he’s in a better place. I also know that he was tired and ready to go.

  It still doesn’t lessen my sadness though, so I pull deep for the consolation I get from the fact he knew a kind touch before he left this world. That is the thought that sustains me, and then fuels me to do what I do.

  This was the fourth time I’ve had to bury an animal out here… on the back edge of the main property. It hurts just as bad as the first time, but I knew when I took Jethro in that his final resting spot would be at The Haven. He was too old for anyone to adopt him, and he was too tired to keep going. I say a final goodbye to the pup, sending a small prayer up to God to look out for him.

  Pushing to my feet, I let out a groan as the muscles in my back scream in protest at the movement. Apparently, my hands aren’t the only thing that took a beating from this burial.

  I reach out to grab the handle of the shovel, having previously wedged the spade into the hard dirt at the edge of the grave before I took a moment to say my final goodbyes. The soil had been packed hard for the digging, but at least it would be easier covering him back up with the loosened pile of dirt.

  Just as my fingers grab onto the wooden base, another hand comes to rest above mine and I hear Brody’s soft voice, “Let me. ”

  Turning to look at him, I’m caught off guard. The late morning sun is behind me but hitting him full in the face, causing his blue eyes to turn aquamarine and the golden highlights in his beard to shine. For the first time since Brody’s been back, his face doesn’t appear closed off. Instead, it is open and his gaze is tinged with a touch of care. It is a look that is so out of tune with the Brody Markham I’ve seen since his release from prison, that it almost knocks me backward.

  I take my duties and responsibilities seriously. I meant it when I told him earlier that this is my sole responsibility… to bury my wards that didn’t make it. But without a moment’s hesitation, I release my grip on the shovel and let Brody take it from me.

  I do this because I think Brody needs this. He has finally stepped across the line he had drawn in the sand that kept him closed off and removed from the real world. He needs to be able to do something worthwhile, and he needs to be able to open himself up to emotion. If this is the way in which he wants to take that step, I’m not going to hold him back.

  “Thanks,” I tell him, moving back a few paces from the mound of dirt resting at my feet. “Let me go get you a pair of gloves. The ones I’m wearing won’t fit you. ”

  “Don’t bother,” he says as he shoves the spade into the turned earth. “By the time you get them, I’ll be done. ”

  I start to argue, but then I’m stunned as I watch Brody place the first shovel of dirt. And by place, I mean place. He doesn’t throw the dirt onto Jethro’s body, but rather gently tilts the spade and sprinkles the soil lightly on him. It’s a move so caring, so soft… my breath hitches in my chest.

  My gaze moves from Jethro to Brody. His face is hard with determination, but his eyes are filled with respect for his task. Every scoop, he plunges the shovel deep into the mound of dirt, and then carefully tilts the edge so the dirt is laid softly until Jethro becomes covered in a gentle cocoon. Sweat starts to bead on Brody’s forehead, which is bare to the sun because he has his long hair pulled back in a tie. It’s trickling down his temple, past his scruff-covered jaw, and drips onto the ground. It’s hot as hell out here… I know because I worked up quite a sweat getting the hole dug.

  Turning, I decide to head back to my office and grab us some cold bottles of water from the fridge I have in there, but Brody’s words stop me in my tracks. “Thanks for letting me volunteer here. ”

 
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