All Good Things, by Carole Conner

All Good Things, by Carole Conner

Patience tapped End Call on the dashboard screen of her SUV. Brows furrowed, she grumbled, “How long can service be out for an entire flippin’ town, Chester?” The chocolate lab in the backseat tilted his head sideways when she glanced in the rearview mirror.

She had tried all afternoon to call the dog sitter and the airline. She had also tried calling her cell provider with no luck. Full bars, and dead air. “Oh, well. I’ll use the landline.”

Her tires squealed when she turned off the street and onto the tree-lined drive. Then she unhooked her confining seatbelt. Chester lost his balance, caught himself, and whined. “Easy, boy. Almost home.”

“Huh. That’s new.” A fresh layer of driveway gravel covered the old since this morning. A look toward her neighbor Helen’s well-lit drive also showed new gravel. She made a mental note to call and thank her friend for the top-off.

“That . . . is also new.” Patience hit the brakes, grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, and leaned forward. Chester slid, then plopped his front paws on the console. He joined her stare out the windshield. The mood in the Suburban flipped from confused to uneasy, just like that.

Second floor, third window from the left. Light peeked out between the drapes. Patience hadn’t occupied the second floor of her home in weeks — not since Ted died. She reached instinctively to touch the dog’s head for comfort. “Hey. Where’s your collar, boy?” Another mental note to look for that in the back yard.

She watched for movement inside the house, but saw none. “Maybe Billy came by.” She had recently left a message for her late husband’s best friend, asking him to come turn off the gas. He never showed up. And why would he go upstairs?

Patience had many of her father’s ways. Pops would never leave for a trip without turning off the household gas supply, and neither could she. “If I had any service, I would call Billy. Thanks, CityCell.” The big dog chuffed. “Right? They suck.”

“OK. We can’t just sit here.” She gathered her courage. “Those trees are giving me the creeps. Come on, boy.” Chester climbed over the console and settled into the front passenger seat.

When the sun was up, the old maples provided a canopy for shade and a lot of Old South curb appeal — the kind you can’t grow in a year or two. Just past twilight, they looked shadowy and sinister. Solar lights at the base of each tree amplified the creep factor.

She clicked the door lock button, even though they were already locked. Then she and her furry companion crept their way to the stately brick house.

***

Chester stood outside the back door. Patience stepped inside the dark kitchen, then looked back. “Come on, boy.” He flopped down on the doormat, covering the script greeting: Happy Fall, Y’all.

She whisper-scolded, “Chester. Don’t be a chicken!” She tried to lift his front half. But like a toddler who doesn’t want to be picked up, he suddenly weighed 300 pounds. “Fine. But I know where the treats are.”

“Treats” got the big dog on his feet. She stepped inside with her fraidy-dog in tow. A turn of the doorknob retracted the latch, which let her close the door quietly. Chester walked past her, through the kitchen to the dining room doorway, where he stared at something. Or at nothing. She didn’t know. She looked around, wondering how they would do this in a scary movie. She wanted to do the opposite.

Nothing seemed amiss, at least not in the dark. She tiptoed up behind her buddy and tried to focus on the dining and living rooms. Stepping through the threshold, she grabbed one of her grandmother’s candlesticks off the console. That’s original.

After a thorough and probably Scooby Doo-level investigation of the entire house, the only thing that looked out of place was the lamp on a bedside table. Ted’s nightstand. She sat down on his side of the bed that they used to share. She had no idea how or why the light was on, but that didn’t matter now. The candlestick took a spot beside it.

Her mind flooded with memories. Boxes of his things were stacked everywhere. “I can’t have them around anymore.” She scratched Chester’s head. He listened like only a very good dog could do. “I swear, it seems like more boxes appear every day. Just like when you’re moving, I guess.” Chester sighed.

“I should call Helen.” She wiped her eyes and picked up the old phone on the nightstand. No dial tone. “I give up.”

Patience curled up on the bed holding Ted’s pillow. Chester jumped up too, and rested his big, warm head on her leg.

***

Chester paced at the foot of the bed. “OK, boy. Just a second.” Patience stretched, yawned, and tried to remember which century it was. She grabbed the candlestick and her cell from the nightstand and tapped the phone’s screen. “9:00? Holy cow.”

He darted back and forth. “OK, OK. I’m coming. I’ll let you out. But when you come back in, you have to make me coffee. Deal?” He wagged. She puzzled for a minute over a stack of boxes, or the absence of those boxes. She swore they were beside the dresser last night. But she blew it off. Who even knows?

She padded down the hallway to the staircase, fumbling with her phone. Chester was already down the stairs and waiting impatiently. Another attempt to call Helen was met with no service. “Stupid phone.” She decided to walk next door later.

The pair walked through the kitchen, where Patience opened the back door to let him out. “Good thing this is a low-crime area.” In all of the excitement, she guessed she had forgotten to lock the door last night.

While he was outside doing his business, she walked back into the dining room to put the candlestick in its place. But there was a dust ring. She grumbled to herself about paying for a cleaning lady who didn’t actually clean. “If I ever get cell service again, I’ll call her. Hear that, CityCell?” She shouted at the ceiling.

Then something else absolutely out of order. Mail on the table? She grabbed a manila envelope and looked at the label.

From: Happy Pets Veterinary Clinic

To: Mitchell Family

Ted’s sister? Why is she getting mail here? Patience tore open the top, reached inside, and found a letter and a red dog collar.

“Please accept our condolences on your family’s loss. This belonged to sweet Chester …”

She clutched the collar, dropped the letter, and ran to the back door.

***

“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Helen.” Billy and the elderly lady walked in the front door carrying their fast food breakfasts. “There’s still so much stuff. I already took two truckloads of boxes to Heartfelt Thrift. The new gravel should help this place sell faster. It looks nice.”

“I thought Kate would at least take those.” The lady gestured toward the mantel where three cremation urns sat in a row: two large ones and a small one with a dog biscuit charm attached. She took a sip of coffee. “It’s an outright shame.”

“I know,” the man sighed. “And with Patience having no family left, I’m at a loss.”

Patience burst into the kitchen with her dopey, lovable dog at her side, then stopped in her tracks. “Billy?” The man didn’t flinch. She walked toward the living room where they stood. “Helen?” She didn’t acknowledge her, either. They continued with their conversation.

Helen asked, “Did they ever learn what happened?”

Billy walked over and wiped dust off the top of the urns. “They have a good idea. You know Patience. She always drove like a bat out of hell. Best they can tell, they were late leaving for the dog sitter and the airport. No seatbelts. The rest is the end of their history.”

“Well,” the lady replied, “at least nobody else was involved. Such a terrible loss. They do say that all good things come to an end. But what an end.” She shook her head in a “bless your heart” sort of way.

“What are you talking about?” Patience yelled and stepped between them; they didn’t react. Chester sprawled out by the fireplace. He seemed settled for the first time since yesterday.


“Helen, I’ve tried to call you!”

Nothing.

“Billy?”

Not even a blink.

She looked down and noticed that the dog collar was gone from her hand. But it wasn’t gone entirely; it was where it was supposed to be — around the sleeping dog’s neck.

What’s going on? She spun around, hearing rustling sounds on the second floor.

Ted descended the staircase, smiling and chipper. “Morning, doll face.” He walked past Helen and through Billy, and kissed Patience’s forehead. “What’s for breakfast?” She swooned.

Billy and Helen’s conversation faded into nothingness along with the urns and mail and the dust and confusion of the recent past. Ted filled the kibble bowl. Chester came running. Patience grabbed the waffle iron from the cupboard. The kitchen smelled of bacon; the house felt like home.


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