The voice had the clarity of a bell coaxed to life in the humid autumn air. Its source eluded me as we appeared to be alone on Sagramore Lake Road, I and three of my collies.
Candy froze in her tracks, ears at attention, eyes fixed on a gabled white cottage half-hidden behind a towering blue spruce.
A figure in black stood in front of an open window, a young woman with streaming yellow hair and a rag in her hand. The next moment the face was gone and the front door burst open. She hurried down the walkway toward us on an intercept course.
Candy strained at her leash while Sky, the skittish blue merle, pressed her body close to mine and Misty, my rambunctious white collie puppy, started barking.
I smiled at the stranger, not sure if that was the best response.
“You have such beautiful collies,” she said. “The tri is absolutely gorgeous. May I pet her?”
She was looking at Candy whose tail was wagging energetically.
I was tempted to say no. There was something about her that set an alarm bell ringing. Something about her excessive enthusiasm. Perhaps the glitter in her cat-bright green eyes. Who comes bounding out of her house to talk to a passerby’s dog? What if she were a nut? Suppose she later claimed that Candy had bitten her?
Don’t overreact, Jennet, I told myself.
She’d already extended her hand for Candy to sniff.
“I guess so,” I said and added, “Be careful. Candy has sharp teeth.”
The woman stroked Candy’s soft black head. “She’s so beautiful. What’s her name?”
“Where did you get her?”
I paused. Candy had been a stray brought to me by an unknown boy during that unhappy time when Halley, my first collie, was lost. He had his eye on the reward. I’d kept her even though she wasn’t Halley.
“I found her locally,” I said with a possessive touch on Candy’s neck. “Who is Sparrow?”
The girl ignored my inquiry. “I’m in the market for a tricolor female.”
What a coincidence! No wonder she was interested in Candy.
“I belong to the Lakeville Collie Rescue League,” I said. “You might check out the dogs we have available for adoption.”
“Rescue? No.” An edge crept into her voice. “I want a dog of my own, not someone else’s castaway.”
I couldn’t let that pass. Of my collies, five were rescues, and they were all unique and wonderful, each in her own way.
“All kinds of dogs end up in Rescue through no fault of their own,” I said. “We have a website…”
“I want a collie with a good pedigree,” she said. “One I can show.”
It was futile to try to change somebody’s mind and unfair to the dogs who hoped to find a forever home. “There are several fine kennels in the area. Colliegrove has a beautiful blue merle at stud.”
“Yes, well, I’ll look.”
Seeing she couldn’t convince the stranger to pay attention to her, Misty began to pull on her leash. She could smell the lake water and the scent of smoke in the air. So could I. Someone was burning leaves.
“Nice talking to you,” I said, giving the leads a light tug.
I sensed that the girl stood rooted to the sidewalk, felt her gaze on me and my dogs as we walked on.
It was foolish to let a chance encounter unsettle me, so I wouldn’t; and there down the street I spied another diversion, friends this time. Molly and Jennifer, the little blonde girls whose lemonade stand had become a summer fixture in Foxglove Corners, saw us and waved. The admiring stranger already forgotten, Candy urged us onward. She knew the girls had cookies for sale as well as lemonade. Dogs remember.
The last time I’d seen Molly and Jennifer, Molly was the taller of the two girls. They were the same height now. They looked more grown up with fingernail polish and a touch of pink lipstick.
Well, it had been two summers ago. At least the stand and the menu hadn’t changed, and Jennifer’s whimsical lion’s head shirt hearkened back to little girlhood.
I told the dogs to sit and they obeyed. Candy chose a spot close to a paper plate of cookies.
“How’s business?” I asked.
“Good,” Jennifer said. “Everybody’s going to the beach today. They stop here on the way.”
“We couldn’t set up last Saturday because it rained,” Molly added.
There was a hint of rain in the sky this morning. A gathering of clouds, a thickness in the air, and a dampness stealing over my skin. I pushed back a strand of hair that had fallen forward over my eye.
“I’ll have a lemonade,” I said, “and three cookies for the dogs.”
They were oatmeal. No raisins. It was the collies’ lucky day.
Jennifer counted them out. “One for Sky, one for Candy, one for Snow White.”
“Her name is Misty,” I said. “She’s new.”
“Where’s Gemmy?” Molly asked.
“At home with Halley and Raven.”
These days I walked the dogs in shifts, three at a time, thanks to Candy, my wild child, who had incited a canine riot when she’d broken free of her leash to chase a deer. My husband, Crane, and I both agreed that walking six large dogs together was asking for trouble, unless he was with me. Certainly I’d never lead my entire brood onto a residential street.
“They must hate being left behind,” Jennifer said.
“I’ll take them out this afternoon.”
Double trouble. Double time. But also double exercise, and I felt more in control with three.
Jennifer poured lemonade in a tall cup while I sifted through the coins in my pocket for change and dropped fifty-five cents into the girls’ canning jar bank.
“We’re going to have caramel apples next week,” Molly said.
I took a long sip. The weather was warm for late September, and the lemonade was on the warm side, too. But no one would hear me complain about these temperatures. Fortunately it was Saturday. That meant no school and perhaps one of my last chances for a leisurely stroll by the lake. In other words, it was a good day.
“What’s been going on in the neighborhood?” I asked.
“A new boy moved in next door to Jennifer,” Molly said. “He’s real cute.”
“And there’s a new dog in the corner house,” Jennifer added.
“His name is Douglas,” Molly said.
“The boy or the dog?” I asked.
That elicited a burst of hilarity, rather out of proportion to the statement, but it was good to laugh in the sun, to exult in the joy of freedom and the mere mention of a new boy on Sagramore Lake Road.
Molly was the first to regain her composure. “The boy, silly.”
“There’s something else,” Jennifer said. “We have a mystery of our own.”
“Yeah. We’re going to be detectives like you when we grow up,” Molly added.
“You girls know I’m an English teacher, don’t you? Nouns and verbs and writing and literature.”
Molly made a face. “But you solve mysteries, too, and that’s more fun.”
I smiled. “Sometimes. Tell me about your mystery.”
The girls exchanged glances.
“We can’t,” Molly said. “Not yet. It’s a secret.”
“Well, I guess you can’t then.”
I was mildly curious but didn’t press them for details. They’d tell me when they were ready, although the lemonade stand’s days were numbered. I might not see the girls again until next summer.
Their mystery couldn’t be an earthshaking one but a puzzle tailored to their age and interests. Jennifer and Molly and the Mystical Jewel. Or maybe it concerned a boy named Douglas.
The dogs had finished their cookies, licked up every fallen crumb, and Candy was eyeing the still-heaping plate as if it were the most precious treasure in her world.
I glanced back down the street. The young woman who had fussed over Candy had gone, presumably back into her house. She was no mystery, but the incident was a little strange, and her prejudice against rescue collies saddened me. Still, people want what they want.
It occurred to me that she hadn’t mentioned her name.
“Do you know the girl who lives in the house with the tall spruce tree in the front yard?” I asked. “She has long blonde hair.”
“Is she our age?” Jennifer asked.
“No older. Probably twenty or so.”
Molly shook her head. “She must be new, too. Don’t you want a cookie for yourself, Jennet?”
I did, but I’d have to share it, as all three dogs were begging for second helpings. While I debated, thunder rumbled in the distance. Should we walk on to the lake or go home? I calculated distances, scanned the sky, and decided the storm was still far enough away for safety. We could easily make it home before the storm.
“Come back next week and bring the others,” Molly shouted as she gathered paper cups.
“If we can,” I said.
Who knew what would happen in Foxglove Corners from one week to another? I’d learned it was best not to plan ahead. If possible.D