by Genevieve Fortin
Newly retired and ready to reconnect with herself, Joyce Allen realizes that she’s not yet the person she knows she was meant to be. At the age of 56, she’s committed to discovering happiness and begins her new journey by taking classes, attending concerts, and adopting the dog she has secretly wished for, Dingo.
When Dingo is injured and a visit to the new veterinarian in town is necessary, Joyce finds herself quietly attracted to Dr. Amanda Carter, the intellectual dreamer who is many years her junior.
Joyce knows that their age difference is too big an obstacle to overcome, and is content to settle for friendship with the thirty-two-year-old vet. But Amanda, for her part, can’t see the gaping divide between them. All she knows is the warmth and attraction she feels for Joyce, and can’t understand why age should matter at all.
Join Genevieve Fortin as she weaves this heartwarming May-December romance of two women who discover the timeless truth of love at any age.
Pin’s Reviews - The story is quite rounded, clear in its message, with good pacing and reads easily and quickly. The main characters are two very likable real to life people, and their unconventional but believable romance develops alongside with Dingo's recovery regardless of the obstacles faced by couples with a significant age difference as well as some personal emotional baggage of both main characters.
“If making this drive every day doesn’t show you I love you, I don’t know what will,” Joyce Allen said to her basenji, squinting at him through the rearview mirror of her Subaru Forester. Safely anchored to the backseat with his harness and seat belt, Dingo cocked his head at his owner in reply. Joyce grinned at the familiar, quizzical expression the wrinkles on his forehead created.
She often complained about having to drive across town to the Bangor dog park while her own house was located right next to another of the city’s multiple green spaces. Unfortunately, Saxl Park didn’t have an enclosed area dedicated to dogs, and letting Dingo run free without physical boundaries to keep him from chasing after any squirrel, cat, or inanimate object blown by the wind was a sport Joyce had quickly learned she didn’t enjoy at all. He was a talented little escape artist and she was not quite as talented at catching him. Seeing him run freely and play with other dogs within the security of a fenced-in park, however, was an enjoyable sight. And it was well worth the drive. She would never admit it to Dingo, of course.
“I hope you remember this tonight when I want to sleep and you’d rather practice your vocalization exercises. You’ll never make the Met, you know. So give it up, little brat. Will you?”
Like all basenjis, Dingo didn’t bark but made a whiny yodel that Joyce found amusing and charming—until eleven at night. At that time Joyce wished her furry companion came with an “off” button, but instead that was the exact time his yodel got louder and more annoying. After a year of sharing her home and life with the red and white little beast, however, their sleeping time was the only matter Joyce and Dingo didn’t agree on. The rest of their days went by in almost perfect harmony.
Joyce turned right on Watchmaker Street, parked in front of the familiar three fenced-in areas and turned the rearview mirror so she could retouch her makeup. She wished she didn’t need to worry so much about her appearance when she went to the dog park. Of all places, the park should have been the haven where she could wear yoga pants and an old sweatshirt without worrying about being judged, she mused with frustration. But experience had taught her that her sister’s snooty friends or those of her late wife were everywhere in Bangor. And they all knew each other. Joyce wished she didn’t care what they might or might not say about her, but she did.
Of course, Evelyn’s friends had been her friends too until Evelyn was taken away by a brain tumor three years ago, but their friendship with Joyce had faded after Evelyn’s death. Joyce had been saddened by their distant disposition at first, when she most needed them, but now she didn’t miss them and she wished she wouldn’t have to worry about meeting them every time she left the house.
Joyce used her fingertips to fluff her thick silver hair, cut above her shoulders, and granted herself a satisfied smile. She’d quit coloring her hair during the eighteen-month depression she’d sunk into after she’d lost Evelyn and she’d never started again. Her silver hair had a bright, lustrous quality that was the envy of women her age and made her look more elegant and sophisticated rather than older.
The last mirror check was directed to the light blue silk scarf around her neck and she twitched it into place, making sure it covered the delicate, crepe-cotton skin of her neck. Scarves were part of her signature look, fashionable yes, but chosen more for their function. At fifty-six, she didn’t mind wearing a sleeveless top that left her yoga-toned arms exposed. But she would never be caught without a scarf around her neck, even in the heat of July. Satisfied with her appearance at last, she got out of her car, grabbed her purse, and opened the back door to clip Dingo’s leash to his collar. Even the short distance between the car and the gate to the park, maybe twenty feet, was too risky not to use a leash on him. The dog started walking proudly by her side, his tail tightly curled on his back.
Together they entered the park for dogs weighing twenty-five pounds or more and as soon as she closed the gate behind them, she unclipped his leash and laughed as she watched him take off like a space rocket. He ran around the park twice, as fast as he could, before he finally went to greet Slipper, a Bernese mountain dog he often played with. Dingo barely made the twenty-five pound minimum for this particular enclosed area, but he’d never seemed intimidated by much larger dogs like Slipper.
Joyce greeted Slipper’s owner, Mr. Davis, with a polite nod. He was a tall and massive middle-aged man who seemed friendly enough but kept to himself. Joyce was grateful he and his dog were the only souls in sight at nine a.m. on this beautiful Friday morning. She wasn’t in the mood to socialize. She took a deep breath of the warm air which she knew would become suffocating in a few hours and walked to the bench nearby where she spent most of her time while Dingo ran and played to his heart’s content.
Joyce sat down and reached into her large purse to grab the book she was currently reading, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. It was the story of a young woman in 1890s rural Australia and she was enthralled by it. When her love for reading had finally been revived after her depression, she’d focused on books set in Australia. She’d been drawn to the country down under ever since she’d read The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough as a teenager. She’d fantasized about living on the large sheep station with Meggie Cleary, the beautiful girl with red-gold hair. Joyce’s recovery from depression had been greatly helped by rekindling old dreams she’d forgotten during her twenty-eight-year relationship with Evelyn. Old dreams like visiting Australia, a trip that was now on her bucket list and that she planned on making sooner rather than later.
When she’d decided to get a dog, she’d researched breeds over the Internet until she’d seen a picture of a basenji. The dog’s red and white hair, its large erect ears, and its inquisitive expression had reminded her of a miniature version of a dingo, the infamous wild dog found in Australian deserts and grasslands. She’d fallen in love with that picture and had decided there and then that the basenji was the right breed for her. Of course she’d learned later while researching breeders that basenjis came from Africa and didn’t have anything in common with dingoes, but that didn’t keep her from finding and adopting her own little Dingo.
Joyce had read two pages of her book when she heard a screeching yelp she recognized as Dingo’s. The loud, high-pitched sound was followed by a deep and panicked, “Oh my god.” Joyce looked up and saw Dingo on the ground. Mr. Davis was on his knees by his side. Her heart briefly stopped at the sight before it started racing. She dropped her book on the bench and ran to Dingo’s side.
She didn’t have time to ask what had happened before Mr. Davis recounted the entire event in a trembling voice. “They were just running and playing like they usually do. Then Dingo stopped for some reason and Slipper ran over him. I think he ran right up Dingo’s back leg. Poor dog. I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. It was obviously an accident. I know Slipper wouldn’t hurt Dingo on purpose.” Joyce’s statement was meant to appease Mr. Davis, but her own throat tightened as she caressed Dingo’s side and she knew her facial expression didn’t match her reassuring words. She was beyond scared.
“Can you get up, little brat?” she asked Dingo in a low, soothing voice as she clicked her fingers together over his head, inviting him to stand up. He got on his feet, but immediately lifted his left back leg and kept it bent against his belly, refusing to put any weight on it. “Something’s wrong with your leg, huh?” She started rubbing and manipulating his entire body, starting with his neck. Nothing seemed to hurt until she attempted to stretch his left back leg and Dingo snapped at her before he whimpered faintly. She jerked her hand out of his reach. He’d never snapped at anybody before. “That hurts, doesn’t it?”
“I think you better take him to the vet,” Mr. Davis said with grief. “I’ll pay the bill. Anything he needs.”
“Nonsense. It’s not your fault. I won’t accept your money, but I think you’re right about the vet.” Joyce started gathering Dingo in her arms, but Mr. Davis stopped her.
“Let me. I’ll take him to your car for you.”
Joyce knew she was perfectly able to carry her own dog, but Mr. Davis needed to help in some way so she let him carry Dingo. As she moved to stand up, she felt a wet tongue on her cheek and turned to face Slipper, who looked as sorry as his owner was. “Don’t worry, Slipper. It’s not your fault you’re such a big boy. Dingo will be fine.” She petted Slipper’s head and stopped by the bench to gather her book and purse before she followed Mr. Davis and Dingo to her car.
Alone in her vehicle with Dingo sitting and whimpering in the backseat, Joyce didn’t have anyone left to reassure about his condition except herself, but she was much less successful than she’d been with Mr. Davis and Slipper. She kept glancing at him through the rearview mirror. The wrinkles on his forehead that usually made him look curious made him appear so sad now. It was heartbreaking. She could hardly breathe as panic settled in and caused her airways to tighten up. What if his leg was broken beyond repair? Worse, what if he had internal injuries Joyce couldn’t see? Slipper had to weigh over a hundred pounds. If he’d run on Dingo’s body he might have caused a lot of damage. Maybe Mr. Davis hadn’t seen everything. Joyce couldn’t lose Dingo.
Joyce had grown up in a house where dogs were part of the family and she’d always thought she’d have a dog of her own as an adult. Evelyn had never wanted a dog. She’d met Evelyn not long after she’d started working at the Bangor Savings Bank, and they’d started to live together shortly after. Evelyn didn’t have allergies, but she didn’t want animals in her home. She claimed they were too messy in a house and made traveling too complicated. They’d have to find a sitter before they went anywhere overnight. Hell, even if they simply went out to dinner they’d have to be back at a certain time to walk and feed the dog. It was a responsibility Evelyn didn’t want to take on. Joyce had argued at first but finally had given up. She’d almost forgotten about her need for canine companionship until she’d come out of her depression. She’d realized that owning a dog was another dream she’d put aside during their relationship. She’d fulfilled the first of those dreams when she’d adopted Dingo.
Joyce took another look at Dingo, leaning on his right side to protect his injured leg. She smiled at him as tears threatened her vision and focused back on the road.
Evelyn Graham had been a wonderful life partner. She was kind, generous, ambitious, and Joyce had been happy with her. Evelyn Graham was also a born leader. She’d taken the lead in every single aspect of her life and it had been natural for her to take the reins in their relationship as well. Joyce, easy-going by nature, had let her make all the important decisions and she didn’t regret it. Evelyn’s decisions had been wise and had allowed them to build a comfortable life as a couple. They’d worked together at the Bangor Savings Bank, climbing the corporate ladder until Joyce became marketing director and Evelyn a VP of finance. They had a beautiful home in a sought-after neighborhood where they often entertained their friends. Joyce had indeed been happy with Evelyn. She’d been lost when she’d passed away.
Then, slowly, the dark veil that Evelyn’s death had thrown over Joyce’s life had started to rise, and she’d realized she couldn’t keep being Evelyn’s Joyce. That Joyce had existed within the confinement of their life as a couple, but she couldn’t exist anymore. She had the conviction that her essence had been buried deep inside her during those twenty-eight years. She wasn’t sure how or when it had happened, but she knew it had.
She didn’t blame Evelyn for her losing herself and she didn’t regret loving and living with Evelyn, but now she wanted to reconnect with her true self. It would be a long process, but she had to start somewhere. So she’d taken the first two steps toward that goal a year ago. She’d retired from her job at the Bangor Savings Bank, and then she’d adopted Dingo.
She couldn’t lose him. He was too big a part of the new life she was building, not to mention being her closest friend and ally in a quest she hadn’t shared with anyone but him. She simply couldn’t lose him.
“Let’s go in and get you all better,” she whispered with determination as she took him into her arms and walked into the Perry Veterinary Clinic.
Amanda Carter enjoyed working at the Perry Veterinary Clinic. She’d been happy at the Maine Veterinary Medical Center in Scarborough, south of Portland. She’d worked there since she’d graduated from veterinary school and she’d learned much. When Douglas Perry had offered her partnership in his small clinic in Bangor, however, she hadn’t hesitated. Opening her own clinic or becoming partner in an established practice was a career move she’d been planning on making. Moving to Bangor also brought her even closer to the vast forests she enjoyed exploring alone with her thoughts and her backpack. She felt more at home in nature than in any other place and nature was everywhere around this town.
She hadn’t known Doug well when he’d made the offer. She’d met him in a professional conference and they’d bonded as the two most reserved people attending the event. They found they had similar practices and beliefs and after the convention, they’d called each other several times to ask for advice on complicated cases. When Doug found himself overwhelmed with the rapid growth of his clinic, he’d asked her to join him as a partner.
Amanda still didn’t know Doug all that well even though she’d been working at the clinic for a little over a month now. In fact, all she knew about him was that he had a wife and a son she would guess to be about eight or nine years old. Not that he’d talked about them. She’d seen the family picture sitting on his cluttered desk. That minuscule window into Doug’s private life was still a lot more than he knew about her own life outside of work. That was the way she wanted it. They seemed to be in silent agreement, in fact, that the only thing it was necessary for them to talk to each other about was their patients’ needs.
He didn’t know, for example, that today was her birthday. This year the seventh of July would go by without awkward hugs or kisses, without cake that would go to waste, without a gift she might have to return to the store.
Amanda wasn’t made for embarrassing social settings of those sorts. And neither was Doug. They were made for sevenths of July like today, their schedules filled with yearly exams, routine vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and three emergencies. They’d managed to handle two of them, but one they’d had to refer to an emergency veterinary hospital because the clinic was not equipped for surgeries that complicated. And all of that before eleven a.m. on a Friday. They didn’t have time for birthdays.
Amanda entered Exam Room Number Three. It was her favorite of the four examination rooms because of the large poster displayed on one of its beige walls between ads for flea and tick control treatments. The poster showed a gigantic Great Dane looking down on a tiny Chihuahua, with the caption “Never be afraid to say what you really feel.” The caption was appropriate for a vet practice, but Amanda smiled every time she saw it because someone, probably Doug, had covered the other caption. She’d seen the poster somewhere else and knew that underneath the white correction fluid on this print were words that revealed what the Chihuahua really felt—“Fuck off.” The perfect Chihuahua thing to say, she thought. When she entered the exam room today, however, she didn’t even look at the poster.
Her attention was immediately captured by the woman standing by the exam table where a basenji sat, held in trembling hands. She was touched by the woman’s obvious affection for her animal and the sincere concern she saw in her eyes, but those were qualities she’d seen a million times before in her career.
There was something else about her. Something in her eyes and overall presence. She was a strikingly beautiful, stylish, mature woman, but that couldn’t be the only thing that was keeping Amanda’s gaze on her. Not even Professor Jones, on whom she’d had a powerful and long-lasting crush when she was studying veterinary medicine, had affected her this way. A warm tingling energy coursed through her body, as if this woman, this incarnation of grace and beauty, had been sent to her for reasons she couldn’t explain yet. As if the universe had sent her a birthday present she hadn’t known she wanted.
“Doctor Carter, this is Ms. Allen,” Isabelle explained from the other side of the exam table, “and this here is Dingo. Dingo had a little accident in the park and injured his leg.”
The spell she was under having been broken by the vet tech’s voice, Amanda turned to face her and nodded, hoping she hadn’t been staring at Ms. Allen too long before Isabelle intervened. She then turned back to Ms. Allen and extended her hand, willing it not to tremble. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Allen. Doctor Amanda Carter. I’ll be examining Dingo today.”
“Nice to meet you, Doctor. Please fix him, will you?”
Ms. Allen shook Amanda’s hand and the contact sent another wave of unfamiliar and unexplained electricity through her veins. It took every ounce of self-control she possessed to keep her composure. She’d never been nervous in an exam room before. She’d never felt out of control. Never been so aware of her Caribbean blue scrubs under her white lab coat and of her boring ponytail. She’d always been businesslike, the ever-efficient, calm, and collected Doctor Carter. She had to be that person again now. For Ms. Allen and for Dingo. She took a deep breath, pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose with her index finger, and started examining Dingo.
She carefully avoided glancing at Dingo’s owner as she took his temperature, listened to his heart, and probed his entire body with the help of Isabelle, who was holding him. Ms. Allen stood at the end of the exam table, whispering words of encouragement to the dog. Her voice was low and soothing and though it was helping Dingo remain calm, it was having the opposite effect on Amanda, who thought she could feel the woman’s breath and the vibration of her voice on the skin of her arms and hands as she went on with the examination.
Somehow Amanda was able to go through every step of her thorough checkup. She cleared her throat before she spoke in an attempt to calm her nerves. “The good news is that nothing else seems to be wrong with Dingo,” she said without looking at the woman. “Something is definitely wrong with his leg though. We’ll need to take X-rays to know exactly what the problem is.”
“I see. Yes, that makes sense. Do you think it’s bad, Doctor?”
Amanda heard the distress in her voice and couldn’t resist looking at her and offering an encouraging smile this time when she spoke. “Don’t worry. We’ll most likely be able to get Dingo back running as if nothing had ever happened.” The sigh of relief she heard come out of Ms. Allen made her realize she hadn’t been breathing that well either. She couldn’t resist inhaling and exhaling deeply.
Amanda had never been good with people, but she’d loved animals all of her life and she hated seeing them suffer. She’d never had a pet of her own as a child because of the unpredictable nature of her home and didn’t have one now because she didn’t spend enough time at home and she didn’t think it’d be fair, but she could still imagine how bad the pain must be when the animal that was suffering was a part of your family. She’d always been able to relate to that anguish, but she’d never felt it in such a physical, almost symbiotic way as she was now.
“Dingo is young and I’m convinced he’ll recover,” she continued. “The question now is what will need to be done to get him there. The X-rays will tell us if we can fix him here with a splint that will hold his leg in place while he recovers, or if he’ll need to go to Brewer’s Veterinary Hospital for surgery.”
“Oh my god,” Ms. Allen exclaimed, alarmed by the possibility of surgery.
Amanda instinctively covered the woman’s hand with her own to reassure her. She’d seen similar reactions in clients who panicked thinking of the cost a surgery could represent, and she understood them. Some people simply didn’t have thousands of dollars to pay for their pet’s surgery. She had a feeling, however, that paying for surgery wouldn’t be a problem for Dingo’s owner. Amanda didn’t know much about fashion, but she guessed the fancy clothes Ms. Allen had worn to the dog park hadn’t come from Walmart. The luxurious light blue scarf she was wearing probably cost more on its own than Amanda’s entire outfit. No, money was certainly not the issue. Ms. Allen’s concern was more likely about the process and the pain Dingo would have to endure as well as the possible complications surgery entailed.
“Let’s take it one step at a time, okay?” Ms. Allen nodded her understanding, so Amanda went on. “Right now we need to give Dingo a mild sedative so we can take the proper X-rays. That’s the first step. It might take some time. Would you like to go home and wait for us to call you when we know more?”
“No, I’d rather stay, if you don’t mind.”
Amanda smiled. She would have been surprised if she’d agreed to leave the clinic without Dingo. “Of course. I understand. There is a coffee machine in the waiting room. Please take a seat and we’ll call you as soon as we can take a look at the X-rays.”
“Thank you,” Ms. Allen said with a weak voice and the first smile Amanda had seen on her face. It was a tentative smile, still tainted with worry, but it was enough for Amanda to know she was grateful and enough for her to want nothing more than to see an even lighter, untroubled smile light up her features. A smile that Amanda would have elicited in her. She hoped she would get that chance once she looked at Dingo’s X-rays.
“You’re welcome. Isabelle, will you please show Ms. Allen the waiting room?”
“Yes, right this way,” Isabelle answered as she opened the door and escorted her out of the exam room.
Left alone with Dingo, Amanda sighed heavily. She missed the closeness of Dingo’s owner, but she was finally able to focus all of her attention on the dog. The little beast looked up at her from the exam table, panting with pain and using the wrinkles on his forehead to question her. “Don’t worry, pup. I’ll take good care of you. I’m not completely useless, you know.”
She scratched Dingo’s head affectionately and took him in her arms before she added, “You do have a lovely mommy, though, don’t you?” Dingo licked Amanda’s face, which she took as his way of agreeing with her assessment. She took him out of the exam room to the back of the clinic where Isabelle helped administer the sedative that would allow them to take X-rays of his injured leg.
She hoped with all of her heart that Dingo wouldn’t need surgery. Part of that hope came from wanting to make things easier on him and his owner. Another, more selfish part, came from her wish to keep treating his leg at the clinic over the next few weeks, which would mean she would see his owner again. Maybe enough times to figure out what to do with that beautiful birthday present the universe had sent her.