Thunder rumbled as a golden lab dropped the ball he’d been chasing in the park and bounded over to a woman sitting beneath a tree on a quilt. She’d just opened a bag of chips when he shouldered up to her and stuck his nose in the bag, wagging his tail.
“Oh my,” her voice weak yet tinged with surprise and forbearance. “Wherever did you come from?” She pulled the bag away as the dog attempted to lick her face.
“Buck!” a voice commanded from across the park’s lawn. “Stop that! Come here!” Buck laid down, facing the woman and chips. A man dressed in running gear ran up to the quilt. “I am so sorry. I don’t know what got into him.”
He snapped his fingers. “Buck, get off this lady’s blanket and sit.” Buck turned his head, sighed, and crawled to his master’s side. Along his way, he overturned an opened bottle of water.
“Oh my gosh.” The man bent down to catch the water but tripped over Buck and smashed his knee into a picnic basket. Grimacing in pain, he rolled off the quilt only to catch the basket’s handle with a flailing arm, spilling its contents onto the wet blanket. “I don’t believe this…I…I’m so sorry.”
Buck sat up, wagging his tail.
The woman, wearing loose sweats and a flowered silk scarf tied around her head looked concerned. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, but I…we’ve made a mess of things for you. Please forgive me…us...Buck and me.”
“Buck, from London’s ‘Call of the Wild’?”
“Yes, you know it?”
“Loved it;” she smiled, “especially Buck.”
“Buck came from the Humane Society where his history was pretty sad. He’s great company despite what he’d been through and normally has better manners.” He got up, straightening the picnic basket. “I think you’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s read the book.”
“I’ve often thought the same.”
“By the way, my name’s Cole. I’m interning at Harbor View Hospital - just across the street.”
She offered her hand. A patient ID bracelet from his hospital hung loosely around her thin arm, dark with bruises. “Rose; and no need to apologize. He’s beautiful…perfect in fact.”
“Thank-you.” He took her hand, it was ice cold. Instinctively he reached over with his other to cover it for warmth.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“Then you’re a patient at Harbor View?”
“Yes. Dr. Stevens is my oncologist. He suggested I get some fresh air and sunshine.” Thunder rumbled as clouds darkened the sky. She smiled, shrugging.
“Optimism is underrated; I’m holding out for sunshine.”
She laughed. “Exactly why I’m under this tree.”
“Rose?” He cocked his head.
She blushed. “A bit old fashion…”
“No, not all; it’s…lovely”
“You know, you’re in great hands with Stevens.” He paused, releasing her hand. “Look, I don’t want to sound forward, but aside from ever present threat of rain, picnics should never be eaten alone. I’ve probably spoiled what was in your basket, but there’s a great deli just down the street. If you’ll watch Buck for a few moments; I’ll run down and pick something up for the both of us.”
“Thank-you, I’d enjoy the company.” She glanced at Buck, sitting proudly, wagging his tail. “But best make that something for three. In the meantime, I’ll share my chips with him.”
“Great. Anything special?”
“Just no anchovies, please.”
When Cole returned he found Rose lying supine against the tree, Buck’s head resting in her lap. Her breathing was deep and relaxed; the sun filtered through the scudding clouds, and leaves, freckled her pale skin.
“Rose, are you asleep?”
Her eyes fluttered open. “No, just thinking.” She stroked Buck’s head.
He put the deli bag down and sat beside her. “About?”
“Buck, from ‘Call of the Wild’”.” She looked at her ID bracelet, then up to him. Moments passed in silence but for the noise of traffic behind them and rumble of thunder overhead. “Do you think there’re people like Buck in the world?”
“I’d like to think so.”
Lightening flashed and she looked into the freckling shadows. “Me too. Able to forget the past and moving on to meet the unknown with an inborn stubborn insistence that the best is yet to be.”
Afternoon clouds subsided to evening rain; their idle picnic talk lingering in the moist air. Treasured moments measured in inches of dwindling light and growing shadows. Later to be recounted by each over yet unknown years with Buck snuggled perfectly between them.
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