Jessie Templar opened her eyes, and gasped.
JJ, her male calico cat, was sitting on her pillow, looking at her with his head cocked to one side, with that look that meant he was going to pounce. And sure enough, she didn’t get her head up fast enough; he jumped, playfully digging his teeth in her scalp, and doing that Alien thing he did so well to get her up and him fed. Jessie giggled and he released his paws from around her head; she was glad that she had gotten him declawed. He jumped on the floor and took off for the kitchen. Jessie pulled the covers over her head and closed her eyes, but not for long. JJ was a very loud cat and he would not stop yowling until he was fed. Jessie got up, fed JJ, and put on a pot of coffee. She went to the living room and threw open the curtains.
“Oh, my, what a nice day,” she said, and opened the door leading to the balcony. Today was her day off so she was in no hurry to get into work. Rose and Denise were just as dedicated to the flower shop as she was, so there was nothing to worry about. She took a deep breath and went back inside to the fridge. When she opened it she realized that she needed to pick up a few groceries, there was nothing there for breakfast, other than a month old bagel and some outdated cream cheese. She closed the fridge and decided to go out for breakfast; she poured herself a cup of coffee and went to the bathroom to shower and get ready for the day.
Friends Café was her favorite breakfast joint; the girls were always so polite, they knew her by name and knew her order: two poached eggs, two sausages, and one toast. The day was looking good so far. She finished up then went over to No Frills to get a few groceries. It was nice that they opened up at eight o’clock, great for early risers like her. It wasn’t even eight thirty and the place was crowded already. She filled the cart, went through the checkout, and went home to put the groceries away. She cleaned up her apartment, took inventory of stock in her storage room, went through her closet and got a bag ready to drop off at the Thrift Store, did laundry, and spring cleaned like there was no tomorrow. She couldn’t remember the last time she took a day off during the week—May two-four weekend was a bust; the weather was terrible and none of the girls had any plans, so they had gone into work for a few hours to do inventory—and when she was finished cleaning and organizing, she was glad that she had done it. The place was spotless. She made herself lunch and a cup of tea and sat down. JJ came out of hiding when he smelled food and joined her at the table.
After lunch she decided to go for a walk. She tied up her runners and headed out the door. At first, she was going to walk the neighborhood, so many nice trails in Brampton, then she thought about walking the Chinguacousy Trail, but then she got into her car, sat down, and thought some more. “Where shall I go?” she said to her reflection in the rear view mirror. Then she turned the key and took off.
She hadn’t been to Churchville Village since last fall. And now, driving on the narrow road to the park, passing all those mansion-style homes, she thought of her brother, Phil. He hadn’t called her since he left and she had no idea where he was or who he was staying with. She hoped that he was doing well, wherever he was.
As she approached the parking lot, she noticed one other parked vehicle. She parked at the other end of the lot and got out of the car. Everything was quiet, except for some birds that were busy pecking in the grass. “Kinda late in the day for worms,” Jessie thought. The sun was shining brightly, but there was lots of shade under the big weeping willows. She had forgotten how beautiful the park was. She walked over to the river, to where she and Phil got drunk that day last summer, and found the same table where they had talked and laughed. She sat down for a few minutes and stared into the water, she glanced over to the other side of the river and shivered, a cold chill went up her spine, making the hair at the back of her neck stand on end. They never did find out what they saw that night.
She got up and looked around. A dog barked somewhere downriver. She walked across the field and headed to the path at the far end of the park. She followed the path along river and picked up the pace. It was nice to get out in the fresh air, to feel the heat of the oncoming summer, and to get the heart pumping. The winter, just like all the others, had gone on too long. Everything was so green, wildflowers were in bloom, and even the dirt smelled fresh; it lifted her spirits, made her high.
Her high became interrupted by the noise of the traffic coming from highway 407, she was nearing the bridge. She came out of the woods and walked through the tall grass of another small field and when she came close to the bridge, she slowed down. Up ahead, under the bridge, a man was desperately trying to get his dog to come out from under one of the beams. It was steadily barking at something in the corner.
Jessie sensed no danger and instinctually went over to the man to offer her help.
“Hi, how ya doin’?” Jessie said.
The man turned around, startled. “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t hear you walk up.”
“Reg has been digging and barking up there for the past ten minutes. I can’t get him to come down, and I can’t get up there on account of my bad knee.” He tapped his left knee.
“I think I can climb up there for you, do you want me to see if I can get him down?”
The man was getting tired and frustrated. “Sure,” he said, handing her the dog leash. “If you can get that thing around his neck, drag him on down for me. I shouldn’t have let him run around without the leash in the first place.”
“No worries,” Jessie said. “Everyone who walks here lets their dog off the leash, that’s why people come here with their dogs. There aren’t too many places in Brampton where you can let your dog roam free. Don’t worry about it.”
“What’s he digging at?” the old man called.
“Nothing, as far as I can see, probably just some remains of a dead animal.” She was just about to snap the leash around Reg’s neck chain when something flew at her legs.
“He finally got what he was looking for,” Jessie said, looking back at the old man, but the dog kept digging. She bent over again and snapped the leash around his chain.
“That was easy,” she said, and headed back down. That was when Reg realized what was going on and resisted the pull. Jessie lost her footing and went rolling back down the hill. When she opened her eyes, Eli’s blue-eyed stare pierced through them.