Looking the other way had never been Shannon Tweed’s motto. Maybe if she had spent a little less time trying to calm tense situations and help, she’d have helped herself to a life. Old habits died hard. Especially when the brisk ocean wind whistled through a supposedly deserted alleyway and the faintest hint of a whimper echoed out from behind a restaurant sized dumpster.
She threw her last, overloaded garbage bag into the container, letting the plastic lid crash back against the metal rim and settle into place. Ignoring the smell of food and animal waste emanating from the hulking green dumpster, she crouched down until her knees rested on the rough gravel. Trish had advised against wearing a skirt, and once again her cousin had proved to be annoyingly correct. Ducking her head under the dumpster, a pair of brown eyes instantly met hers and she nearly swore.
Great. A dog. What was she supposed to do with a dog? She probably could have left a cat in the alley to fend for itself. Not man’s best friend. No, she couldn’t walk away from a dog.
As the thoughts formed, she slowly extended her hand, palm facing up. Tentatively, the dog sniffed her palm, its wet nose tickling against her skin. Wet nose had to be a good sign, right? She knew nothing about dogs. Other than she’d begged her aunt to get her one but had been constantly denied. Dogs required constant care and companionship, and was Shannon willing to commit to that? No, even as a nine-year-old, lonely girl, she knew she’d be gone the first chance that she’d get.
“Come here, sugar,” she cooed, letting the local colloquium invade her speech.
She’d only been on St. Simons Island for three months, but already she appreciated the new turns of phrase she’d picked up.
Step by step, or maybe paw by paw, Shannon drew her hand back and the pup followed. At the end of the dumpster, a brown pile of matted fur appeared, a bright pink tongue darting out. Hungry. That she could solve. She pulled a package of shortbread cookies out of her cardigan sweater pocket. The dog sat still but for its tail beating rapidly against the metal dumpster in anticipation.
“I planned to save this, but I can get more.”
Ripping the package, the cookies popped out of the wrapper and the dog caught the sugary discs in midair like she’d thrown a tennis ball on the beach.
“Wow, I don’t know if I should be impressed or more worried. How hungry are you?”
The snack seemed to embolden the little dog who began to sniff the ground around Shannon and then Shannon’s pocket, looking for more food. When the pup moved to her left side, however, a rumble in her pocket startled the dog who made a break for the safety of the dumpster again. She shushed and extended her hand palm side up again and pressed the phone to her ear. Of course, the one time she actually had the cell phone Trish and Phil had given her on her person it caused more trouble then it was worth.
She really couldn’t get used to being constantly connected.
“Hello? This is Shannon.”
“Shannon, dear, this is Marie,” came the lofty tones of the leader of local island tap group, the St. Simons Senioritas.
Marie Smith-Thomson, former Rockette, and general Grande dame was an intimidating figure, to say the least. When she’d found out Shannon worked in the entertainment industry as a cruise ship performer, she’d wasted no time in recruiting her to choreograph and sometimes fill in as a substitute for the group. Recruiting didn’t seem like a strong enough word. She’d been too scared to cross the lady to do anything other than readily agree.
“Yes, Miss Marie,” she cleared her throat and wiggled her fingers, luring the dog to come back out of its hiding spot. “Hello ma’am, how can I help you today?”
Adapting quickly to the local manners had been a skill born out of necessity that served her well.
“We really need to find time to go over the routine for the New Year’s Eve show. I know your cousin needs you and it’s almost Christmas, but that’s the point, it’s almost Christmas. We’re running out of time, and I’m not thrilled with our routine. I think we need to tighten up the middle. What’s the point of dancing to Cole Porter if we can’t carry on the man’s legacy?”
The dog licked the tips of Shannon’s wiggling fingers. Emboldened by the dog’s action she moved closer and smacked her forehead into the dumpster. Grunting, she rubbed a hand across her forehead and rocked back to sit on the ground. At the noise and the sudden loss of her hand, the dog approached and hopped into her lap.
“Dear, there is no need to revert to caveman responses.”
“Oh sorry, Miss Marie. I was… I just hit…” she cleared her throat and rested a hand on the little dog cradled in the soft gray felt of her favorite skirt. “Miss Marie, I’m out behind the bar and I just found a dog. I have no idea what to do. I would love to chat with you about the performance, but the sun is starting to set, and I have to figure out where to take this little guy.”
“That I can help with. If you hurry, you should be able to reach the animal shelter over in Brunswick before they close. I volunteer my time there.”
“Really? You do?” Shannon coughed, realizing she’d spoken before thinking. Miss Marie’s charitable nature wasn’t surprising. Only the fact that the woman found more time to help yet another worthy cause. Shannon felt rather lazy in comparison to the woman over fifty years her senior.
“I mean thank you, Miss Marie. Let me run this little guy over there, and I’ll give you a call tomorrow about rehearsal time. I don’t think we’re at risk of ruining Cole Porter’s reputation with our routine, but we could always use more practice.”
“I’ll look forward to your call.”
Dropping her phone into her sweater pocket, Shannon scooped the dog into her arms and set off to the street on the end of the alley. Stiff and trembling in her arms, carrying this dog reminded her of trying to juggle too many hangers when she packed up her wardrobe and got off the last cruise. She stroked the dog with her free hand and bundled the pup closer to her body. The unseasonable weather had continued right up through the week of Christmas on the Georgia coast. After a few years spent mostly in the Caribbean, even weather in the lower seventies could make her shiver and shudder.
She reached her car and got both of them inside without incident. The dog happily sniffed and circled in the passenger seat until it sighed and settled down. A dog used to cars? How had something so small and obviously house-trained ended up behind a bar a few days before Santa showed up?
Turning over the engine, she backed the little SUV out of the spot and pulled onto the road. Loud snores sounded and Shannon turned on her Carpenter’s Christmas album. She needed a little more Christmas spirit. Letting her mind drift to the negatives of humanity came all too easy. She didn’t want to spoil the holiday by being dragged back into a foul mood. Especially not during the first holiday spent with her family in years. Although her absence for all the preceding years had been of her own choosing.
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