Chapter 4: Will Date for Food

I kinda lost it. I froze, and then had to make myself breathe again. The late summer sun seemed overbearingly bright and the wooden chair had a carved back that dug into my shoulder blade. And those blues eyes staring at me definitely were not helping.

Aeron pushed himself up, and I caught the smug smile on his face. He moved over to the kitchen and began taking out items from the fridge.

"While you're thinking, would you like a sandwich?" His voice held a tone of sarcasm I couldn't quite protest.

I shook my head no, then instantly regretted it. The afternoon was growing and I'd hardly eaten lunch.

"About your dog, Romeo, he looked like he wanted to go for a walk," I said with a sheepish grin. I knew it was corny and not quite the explanation he wanted to hear, but heck, I didn't know why I'd done it.

"Well, yeah, I guess I'm not so good at remembering to do that…" He was creating a tower of a sandwich, three layers of meat (ham, salami and turkey), with both mayo and mustard, a small leaf of lettuce, and what looked like a whole onion and a whole tomato.

"He is a little on the chubby side," I prompted. This guy certainly wasn't, though he could sure eat a ton. He didn't seem to work out much though; his arms were as skinning as mine.

"So, you don't have anything better to do besides take other people's dogs on walks?" He was walking toward me with his prize and bang, the heat was back on me like a light bulb switch.

Truth, just tell the truth.

"I'm kinda unemployed right now so I don't have a whole lot to do." I looked down again, then I remembered something about how looking down made you look like a liar. I tried looking up, past Aeron's eyes with those damned protruding eyebrows, and settling on looking out the glass doors, into the green courtyard and garden.

"Would you mind taking him on his walks then?" He followed my line of vision and looked out the windows of the doors. "I'd pay you too, as long as you come in through the front door. And knock."

"Really?" I asked. It was unbelievable. "That'd actually be a great thing. I could – thank you. Thank you for not, you know, going crazy or thinking that I'm crazy."

"I didn't say I don't think you're crazy," he said flatly. He took a huge bite of the sandwich. My stomach grumbled.

"Ok, um, what time do you leave for work?"

"Excu'e m'?" He said through a mouth-full.

"I want to walk Romeo while you're here, if you want me to go the front door that is…"

"Oh, yes. I work from here usually. Just come by around noon." He shrugged his skinny shoulders.

He's so strange, I thought, as he led me to the front door. Maybe he's just lonely? Lonely in this huge house? Probably someone else lived here…

The phone rang, and a panicked look crossed his face. Aeron shoved me through the door and I looked behind me only to see the door close.

Well, while he certainly wasn't a gentleman, I wasn't about to question my new benefactor.

On my way home (walking slowly because I'd certainly had enough exercise for the day), I paused when something rustled in the bushes on my right. And it wasn't a light breeze that made the bush move back and forth.

A wet nose peeked out of the bush, and a pair of warm brown eyes looked up at me.

No way, I thought. I am not getting into this again. I was sweaty, tired and the slight feeling of triumph disappeared.

The simple answer was, the dog was too large to hide in the backyard, I had no energy for it, and I wasn't about to look all over for his owner's house. I made a decision: If he had an address on his collar, I'd take him back home right this instant, if he didn't, well then too bad doggie, you ran away, you're on your own.

After all, I hadn't seen any new Lost posters on my various walks.

The dog, a brown-haired mutt, shied away from me at first, but was soon jumping on my lap, licking my face. I squeezed my eyes shut and grabbed fort the collar blindly. When I wrestled him away from me, I read that it name was Arnie, and that's it.

Before I could re-organize my thoughts and let my emotions take over, I hopped up and walked away.

Yeah, I felt like a jerk.

---

I had a job. I had some means of not starving to death in the recent weeks. One thing for being poor, it was the strictest diet I'd ever been on. Though I guess I'd never dieted much, well, not successfully.

It was a bit of a problem, though, not having money to go places. When I got home, Derek was slumped on the platform couch, legs hanging off.

"Hey Em, lets go out to eat tonight," he said. He flipped through the channels; I think to disguise the fact that he had been watching The Real World. He should know me better than that; I wouldn't have made fun of him. Well, not a lot.

"Already sick of the cafeteria?" I let my purse fall to the ground, and climbed up to the platform.

"Yeah. Let's go to Chile's," he suggested. I hesitated. I really didn't have the funds to go there. I estimated the change in my purse. Maybe, if I got a small salad…

"Listen, I'll pay. As long as it's just you and me." He must've noticed my worried look. I bit my lower lip.

"Sure you don't want to invite some other people along?" I peeled up the cushions to look underneath.

"Naw. We haven't had a lot of time to talk lately." True, Derek was one of my closest friends. The only friend that hadn't gone off to Malaysia or New York.

My net results from the cushions were three pennies, a dime and a nice shiny quarter.

"What are you doing?" Derek asked.

"Um, cleaning?" I suggested.

"Makai," Derek said, his tone serious. "Look at me, please, Emmy. If you need to borrow some money, you can ask."

"It's not that. I mean I got a little job. It's temporary, and gosh, I don't even know how much he'll pay me, but…" I picked at the platform, letting my fingers trace over the vines I'd painted on the wood after Derek had sanded and varnished it.

"You're not, ahem, sleeping with this guy for money, are you?"

"Derek!" I threw a pillow at him and his wide eyes.

"Hey, I just had to make sure, because you know, I wouldn't want that to happen to you." He drew his arms in close to his body and I thought I saw his finger shaking a bit.

"Have you ever paid a girl for sex?" It popped out and I mentally hit my head. Great, Makai, your friend gets a little nervous and you ask him an embarrassing question, that'll make him feel better.

"Only the normal boyfriend stuff, flowers and chocolate. Or dinner."

I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. "I shouldn't ask you to do this…"

"Don't worry, it's not, like a date or anything." He stared into my eyes, then grinned and leapt off the platform, all of his athletic grace back since this morning. "You wanna shower before we go? It's still early."

"Yes," I said with conviction. I was still in my workout sweats, and probably smelled a fair amount. And these were the sweats that had paint all over them. The sweats I'd worn in front of a cute, rich guy who owned a business selling very beautiful art.

A cute, rich guy I was working for, I reminded myself.

As I got ready for our not-a-date dinner, I felt a little bubbly knot of anticipation in my stomach. I danced in the bathroom and used a large glob of strawberry-scented body lotion. I stopped myself from worrying about having to have a garage sale or something and applied some sparkly peach eye shadow, with a deeper cranberry color in the crease.

I pulled on a shimmery wine red top and a pair of black slacks. With my low-heeled black sandals I was set for a night on the town. Even the two inches on the heels made me feel more beautiful, who needed four or five inches? If I wore those, I'd be taller than a fair amount of guys, yeech!

"M, are you ready yet?" Derek knocked on my door for the tenth time.

"Coming!" I called, spraying a bit of perfume on my wrists. I mean, what if I saw a cute guy at the bar or something? I might want to chat him up…though I don't usually do that sort of thing, without a drink or two anyway. Ok, well, I certainly wasn't doing all this for Derek or anything.

I raced out the door to the living room.

"Hey, hey, hey," said Derek. He pressed his hand against my arm, not grabbing it, but guiding me to face him. "You look gorgeous." The statement was simple, with a slow smile.

"I'll just, grab my purse, in the living room," the words tumbled out of my mouth. I don't know why, but I'd never felt—

Stop thinking such silly thoughts, I told myself. I grabbed my purse, and we walked out into the twilight. And though the sky was beautiful and the light cast a soft glow on the front lawn and Derek's smile, I couldn't help but feel a knot growing in the growling pits of my stomach.

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A/N: Thank you for the reviews. I'm changing the summary and plotline slightly, and may change the title since it is a bit misleading now. Makai isn't actually going to start up a Pet Reclamation Service, it just kinda describes what she does unofficially for the time being. I've mapped out more of the chapters now but I'm still not sure about the length. My spring break has ended now though, so you can't expect quite a lot of updates, maybe once or twice a week.

Tlw1: Thank you for ideas on how to better characterize Aeron and Derek. I guess they are still a bit vague on my story, if only there was an easier way to get them out of my head and onto the page. 

I Quoth Nevermore: Thank you for the dog-walking idea. I don't think Makai knows why she kidnapped the dog. I could go all English-major deep and say that Romeo reminded her of herself, being trapped in by post-graduate expectations, but that might get rather boring.