Kayla was tempted to offer Marcie help with her move into the duplex but knew she would be spreading herself too thin. She had one week to get Mrs. Langley's apartment ready and get her things moved into it. If she took the time to help Marcie move, she wouldn't have time to get her part done and the apartment wouldn’t be ready for Marcie.
Preparing Mrs. Langley's apartment actually turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. She expected the deep cleaning, knowing that Mrs. Langley had been unable to do much for the last year. What she didn't expect was the emotional response. The strangest things would set her into a tearful reminiscence of the time they had spent together. There was the mug that she found glued together. She had given the mug to Mrs. Langley and had dropped it one day and broke it. She threw it in the trash and told Mrs. Langley that she would buy her another one. Mrs. Langley had refused to allow her to do so. And there it was, pushed to the back of the cabinet and forgotten when she moved. There were so many things - things that reminded her that she would never see her again - and then she would start crying again.
As painful as the process was, it finally came to an end. Kayla moved into Mrs. Langley's apartment. Marcie and her daughter moved into Kayla's old apartment and life eventually drifted back to normal. There was no old lady to take to the park, but Stephanie was a great substitute. It was nice having a child around, even if she didn’t get to see her much. Marcie left early for work each morning and dropped Stephanie off at a friend’s house. In the evening she picked her up and brought her home. Stephanie was a quiet little girl who rarely looked at anyone when they spoke to her. Life had been difficult for them for a long time. Hopefully, things would change when they got to know each other well.
It was a good feeling to know that she could help them in some way. The first month Marcie was late with the rent, but she did pay it. She explained that she hadn’t anticipated the extra cost of moving. She couldn’t simply transfer her utilities and had to pay a deposit before she could get her electric turned on. Kayla felt compassion for her and, because the mortgage payment was so small, she was able to pay Marcie’s share on time. Marcie paid her when she said she would. Everyone had problems now and then.
One cool Saturday morning when she was walking in the park, she saw a tall lean man jogging with a huge dog on a leash. Drake spotted her and paused to talk.
"How is Marcie working out," he asked.
Kayla shrugged. "Fine. How are things with you and Woolsey?"
He looked surprised. "You remembered his name."
Kayla smiled. "Well, it is a rather unusual name."
He nodded. "That’s a medieval name. It means victorious wolf."
Kayla eyed the dog. "As in werewolf?"
Drake grinned. "As in Irish Wolfhound."
Warmth rushed to her cheeks. "Oh, I didn't know what breed of dog he was. He's so big. Are they all that big?"
"Pretty much," he said, coaxing Woolsey closer to Kayla. "They're the tallest breed, and gentle a breed. Go ahead and pet him if you want. He won't bite."
Kayla held her hand out for Woolsey to sniff and then cautiously touched his head, gently stroking his coarse fur. Peeping out from the long hair on his face, Woolsey observed her with kind, gentle dark eyes. He gave her hand a friendly lick.
She looked up at Drake. “He’s so big. What do they use that breed for?”
“Originally they were bred as war dogs. They were so tall that they could pull the enemy off his horse or chariot. They also used them to hunt wild game – elk, wild boar and wolves – hence the name Wolf Hound.”
She caught her breath and stepped back. “They pulled men off horses? Are they an aggressive breed? Do you use him as a guard dog?”
He chuckled. “No. He’s brave, but he’s not aggressive. He doesn’t bark an alarm either.”
She eyed the huge dog. “He wouldn’t need to bark. How many people would stand there if he ran up to them?”
He patted Woolsey on the head. “He’s a great companion.”
As big as he was, he’d probably eat him out of house and home. But then, Drake the dragon didn’t have to worry about losing his home.
“I suppose you have to exercise him a lot.”
He nodded. “I usually walk him twice a day for at least twenty minutes.” He tipped his head to the side and lifted a brow. “Do you come here often?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes. Obviously, our schedules don’t coincide.” She would have noticed the big dog. “I’m at work during the week.”
He gave her a wry smile. “But not on weekends.”
She had no idea why the fact that she didn’t work weekends bothered him – unless he was thinking about Marcie. “Sometimes, but fortunately I have a job that doesn’t require weekend work often. Others aren’t so lucky.”
Woolsey tugged at the leash and Drake gave her a curt nod. “Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime.”
Not if she could help it. Marcie was working all the hours she could, and still struggling to catch up on her bills. If the dragon was still upset with her, he needed get over it.
In the next three weeks, she did see him again on occasion, jogging beside Woolsey in the park, but they never talked. Kayla tried to stay out of his site, but she couldn’t resist watching him. He was a striking figure, tall and lithe with an athletic build. People occasionally sought him out and he would stop and talk to them. Her first impression of him had been that he was unfriendly, but after observing him talk to others, it occurred to her that he was unhappy. Was it the job that made him feel that way, or the loss of his parents?
That thought prompted her to spend more time with her parents. They always wanted to know how things were working out with her new renter. She didn’t tell them that Marcy had been late with the rent. It would violate Marcie’s privacy, but more than that, she didn’t want to cause her parents undue concern.
The next time the rent came due, Marcie was late again. Well, not actually. She paid part of it on time. She promised to have the rest the next week. Once again, Kayla paid the rent on time, using the money she had saved. It wasn’t as if Marcie wasn’t trying, and they were friends, after all. Friends helped friends. It might take a few months for Marcie to get caught up. Stephanie was growing and she had to buy her new clothes.
While the landlord part of her life had not gone as well as she expected, her success with Stephanie was stellar. Stephanie smiled more often and even came over occasionally to visit.
Kayla’s patience was rewarded when Marcie brought the rest of the rent on the day she had promised. Next month it would be different.
Kayla continued her visits to the park. She missed Mrs. Langley more than she anticipated and seeing the familiar faces at the park helped. She talked with her elderly friends, but she gave money less frequently. She wanted to be prepared in case Marcie couldn’t pay the rent next time. One day she was watching Drake and Woolsey from an obscure bench in the park when one of her elderly friends sat down beside her. His rheumy gaze settled on Drake.
“He’s a strange one, isn’t he?”
She turned to look at him. “I don’t know if that’s how I would describe him – more like unhappy.”
He pursed his lips and thought about it. “Maybe. He is here almost every day. It’s almost like he’s looking for someone.”
“Maybe he’s just exercising his dog.”
He nodded. “I’m sure he is, but…” He shrugged one shoulder. “You can tell I’m getting old. I have nothing better to do than watch people and think up troubles for them.” His eyes wrinkled in a grin. “Better them than me.”
She laughed. “I suspect you were the instigator of a few pranks in your time.”
He bobbed his head up and down in stiff-necked nod. “My wife thought I was a bit ornery.” He released a weary sigh. “Those were the good days, and we didn’t even know it.”
“I suppose so. I guess I’ve never thought about it much, but I certainly do enjoy my life right now. I hope I look back on it later with fondness.”
They talked for a few more minutes before he got up and limped away. She remembered the day his wife had died. He said he came to the park to get away from her. When he got home, he found her in the kitchen. She’d had a heart attack. He had never forgiven himself for leaving her alone, even though the doctors said it wouldn’t have mattered if he had been there. The heart attack was so massive that she probably never knew what happened.
She searched for, and found, Drake. It wasn’t hard to find him. Just look for the biggest dog in the park dragging a tall man around at the end of a leash. Mr. Peterson thought he looked like he was searching for someone. Her pulse increased a little at the thought that he might be looking for her. He wasn’t, of course, and she didn’t want to talk to him. It was a lot more pleasant simply watching him – and Woolsey, of course. Maybe she should get a dog and stop drooling over one owned by someone else. Even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew she wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a dog. Oh, it would be fun walking it in the park and loving on it, but the idea of pet hair on Mrs. Langley’s beautiful antique sofa was almost nauseating. In any case, it probably wasn’t the dog she was drooling over.
The air was beginning to have a chill to it, so she left the park. It would soon be getting dark and Marcie would be coming home with Stephanie. She wanted to make them some cookies.
Before she reached her car, she pulled the keys from her purse. She made sure no one was close to her car, as Dad had cautioned her. That was why she saw him helping Woolsey into his car.
For a moment, they gazed at each other over the top of two cars. Gray eyes met hers with a warmth that increased her pulse.
Cookies – that was what she was going to do – make cookies. She unlocked her car and climbed in. Whew! That was close. As she started the car, she thought of Mr. Peterson’s observation that he appeared to be looking for someone. No. It couldn’t be her.