All things 'Twilight' belong to Stephenie Meyer, not me.
I don't really know much about dogs, other than that they're cute. Apologies for any glaring errors!
Chapter One: Sit
The sound of friendly barking greets me as I step in from the misty rain to the waiting room of 'Raise the Woof' dog grooming salon. As I walk in, Leah, one of the store owners, is walking out from a curtained- off area carrying the pink sparkly leash of one perfectly coiffed Bichon Frise.
Leah raises her hand in greeting.
"Dr. Swan! Perfect timing. Jake is almost finished with your boys. They sure look handsome! Let me get Princess Catherine here all set to go and I'll run back and grab them for you."
"No hurry, Leah. I'm a little early. And it's just Bella, remember? I'm off the clock."
Mrs. Cope, the owner of the little puff ball is somehow able to pay her bill amidst the jumping and yapping of the munchkin trying to get her attention. She bids both of us goodbye, promising to make an appointment with me for Princess' annual shots next week. She raises her dog's paw for a wave and sashays out the door.
Leah lets out an exhausted sigh, dramatically flopping down on the counter top.
I laugh, knowing that I will be doing the exact same thing at the clinic next week come shot time.
Raising her head, Leah pushes her hands down on the counter to hoist herself up. Leah and Jake have owned the salon for a couple of years now. They grew up together in nearby LaPush and got married right out of high school. Not only do they have great minds for business, but they are also tremendous people and we became fast friends after I moved back into town.
"Okay! Well, let me go see if my better half is ready to send your boys out."
She disappears behind the curtain and it's not long before I hear the familiar jingling of tags against collars and the trot-trot of freshly clipped nails hitting the floor. An excited feeling takes over. I always miss them during the day if I leave them at home when I'm at work, and I love seeing which themed bandana Jake picks out for them after grooming. But there is another reason for my enthusiasm after this appointment. It's the reason why I brought them here today.
When the curtain parts this time, Jake and Leah are both there - each of them carrying a leash. They round the corner and I get my first glimpse of my prides and joys - two beautiful Scottish Deerhounds that I named William Wallace and Gandalf the Grey.
"There they are!" I exclaim in the voice that I reserve only for them. I hold my hands out and their leashes are dropped so that they can come over and get their greeting. I crouch down and nuzzle their faces, smelling the combination of shampoo and dog breath as they wag their tongues and tails in delight.
It's amazing to remember what they looked like the night they were delivered from the humane society to the clinic in Phoenix where I was completing my veterinary internship. It was the middle of the night and only a couple of us were there in case of emergency. They were terribly malnourished and shivering in fright. One of them had an infected paw and the other appeared to have possible brain damage. Both of them had missing fur around their necks - evidence of being chained for a long time period. As the vet and I worked to stabalize them, the humane society representative filled us in on the conditions they had been found in.
I seethed with anger as it was explained that they had been left in the overrun yard of a dilapidated house. The neighbors called to complain about the barking heard at all hours of the night. An arrest was made and the dogs were sent seized. In the following days, as they got stronger, so did our bond. One of the dogs did have slight brain damage, and a witnesses at the owner's trial testified that beatings were used as a means of discipline, including blows to the head.
Their good health returned, but after a humane society assessment during which both dogs cowered or didn't even respond, it was determined that their extreme lack of social skills would not work for adoption and they ran the risk of being placed in the same situation they came from. I didn't even hesitate. I loaded up my old Jeep with dog food, accessories and my two new companions.
Gandalf and Wallace starting coming to the clinic with me every day and I began to notice them lying down next to the cages of the most ill animals, as if in sympathy and comfort. I was initially concerned that because of their size, it would agitate the other animals, but it actually seemed to have the opposite impact. I began to wonder if they would be able to provide the same service for humans and enrolled them in therapy dog training. We started visiting the children's hospital three times per week, where they were treated like rock stars by the patients and staff alike.
They thrived and so did I.
Shortly before my internship ended, I received a call from my dad saying that there was an opening at the vet clinic in Forks, Washington. It wasn't the ideal situation, being back near my parents in the tiny, rainy place where I was born and raised, but seeing as it was an automatic job offer and presented an opportunity to succeed the current owner, it was an offer I couldn't refuse. Plus, being single and in the beginning of my career meant that I could pick up and leave with no regrets if didn't work out.
One month later, the boys leaned their heads out of the windows and pointed their noses north...toward their new home.
"They're ready for their big debut today, Dr. S." boasts Jacob, pointing to the bandanas he's placed around their necks. "They're going to be a hit."
"I hope so!" I respond. "Jake, these are absolutely perfect. You're the best."
I pick up the end of the fabric to get a closer look at the design. On it are books of all shapes and sizes. He chose this design to coordinate with Wallace and Gandalf's brand new therapy assignment that is starting today.
Settling into life in sleepy Forks was easy and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I wasn't the only member of my high school class that had decided to return to small town life. Two months after unpacking my belongings into the small cottage I rented on the outskirts of town, I approached the chief of staff at the local hospital to inquire about volunteer opportunities for my therapy dogs. Dr. Cullen greeted me warmly, delighted to see that he wasn't going to be applying plaster to any broken limbs today.
After showing him a photo of the boys in action in the children's ward back in Phoenix, he explained that he was all in favor of us volunteering at Forks General. Unfortunately, he informed me that the hospital had recently instituted a 'no animals' policy due to allergies and other reasons. He didn't agree with the policy, but had to follow it none the less.
I didn't leave entirely empty-handed, however.
Dr. Cullen pulled his prescription pad and wrote down the phone number for his daughter Alice. I knew Alice. She was a senior at Forks High when I was a freshman. Apparently she had recently taken over as director of the local library and was working on programming for the upcoming year. He remembered her mentioning something about dogs, but he couldn't remember. I agreed to call her to get the scoop.
I contacted Alice that afternoon and she excitedly agreed to meet me for coffee the following day. Over steaming cups of the local brew, she filled me in on her plan to start the 'Read to a Dog' program, wherein children would read aloud to licensed therapy dogs for one or two hours a week.
"You see," Alice began, "dogs won't laugh at you if you make a mistake and they won't interrupt you to pick on you when you miss a word. The program has been wildly successful at larger libraries. The board agreed to the idea, but as you can imagine, I haven't been able to find any licensed therapy dogs. I just about flipped my chair over when you called!"
Gandalf and Wallace loved children. And I loved the possibility of volunteering with them again. Without hesitation, I said yes, and Alice followed me to my place to meet the boys. Within minutes of being in their company, we were hired.
The weeks that followed included an introduction to the board and a photo shoot and interview for the local paper. I also did some research about other programs and couldn't wait to get started.
"See you next week!" I shout as I head out the doors of the salon after adding a big tip on to my payment.
In the library parking lot, I raise the back door of the Jeep and place the required 'Certified Therapy Dog' vests on the boys and give them a final pep talk before we go in.
"Okay, guys. Let's show them what you got."
Going anywhere with Gandalf and Wallace is an entertaining experience, mainly because of the looks on the faces of the people we pass. Even at my 5'5" height, they easily reach my waist. And they don't exactly look like your cute and cuddly Golden Retrievers. Walking past the bank of computers, even the teens who had drowned out everything in the room but the game on their monitors turned to whisper and stare. We were used to it, so we keep walking back to the room where the program is being held.
I smile broadly as I see that Alice has redecorated the room in a canine theme, including a list of rules for interacting with the dogs. My eye is immediately drawn to a poster hanging on the wall featuring a woman with a search-and-rescue dog, the caption saying, "READ to your hero." My hope is that my boys will become someone's hero during this experience.
"Alice, this is absolutely perfect."
"I'm so happy you agreed to do this, Bella. And I really hope you get a good turnout. I've been placing fliers all over town. I really want this to be a success. I invited my brother and his daughter today, too. My niece has been having some trouble at school so I thought this might help her."
Her eyes take on a sad look as she tells me of her two family members.
Alice's brother. I know of him. Everyone in this town knows who the Cullens are. But we had never actually met. By the time I had reached high school, he had already left Forks, along with their sister Rosalie. When I moved on to college, I never really made an attempt to keep up with the hometown gossip, so I had no idea he had returned, much less as a father.
Before we can finish our conversation, I hear little voices headed toward us. Once the children cross the threshold into the reading room and spot the boys waiting patiently for them on the rug, their tone becomes louder and more excited. Alice is skilled at reining in hyper patrons and we are soon seated comfortably on the carpet together. I introduce the boys and give a little bit of information about their breed, where they came from and the rules for interacting with them.
To get everyone in the spirit, Alice starts the hour by getting down on the floor and reading aloud to the children, using Gandalf and Wallace's name in place of the characters. Each twitch of the ear and tail every time that they hear their names earns delighted giggles from the children, eager to try it out themselves when it is their turn to read. Every so often, I can see Alice look toward the door in what I assume is hope that her brother has accepted her invitation to attend.
Towards the end of the hour, all of the children have gone home and I start to gather my supplies to head out myself. Alice's voice can be heard outside the door.
"No problem, the hour isn't up yet and I'm sure Bella wouldn't mind staying a few minutes longer."
Despite the fact that I had been having a wonderful time, I am slightly annoyed at Alice's presumptuous statement.
That is, until she walks through the door with him.
"Bella!" Alice exclaims. "I'd like you to meet my brother."
He steps forward and reaches for my hand, introducing himself in a strong but quiet voice.
"Hello. I'm Edward Cullen. And this..."
He reaches behind his leg and tugs on a small body hiding there. All green eyes and unruly reddish- brown hair, there is no doubt that this beautiful little girl belongs to this man.
"...is my daughter Madigan. She's here to read to your dogs."
Thank you for tuning in to the beginning of my sophomore fanfic effort. It will be short and fluffy and maybe a bit hairy. *wink*
A link to a drawing of Gandalf and Wallace may be found on my profile.
'Read to a Dog' is truly an amazing program and if you know a reluctant reader, I strongly recommend talking to your local librarian about it.
Special thanks to the wonderful lemonmartinis and MoltenChocCake for agreeing to pre-read and beta for me. If you see any rogue commas, blame me.