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45 and Holding by James, Jacki, Wexler, Jill (1)

Chapter 1

Midlife Musings: Maybe it’s time to try something new. Or be someone new. But fuck, I’m tired.


Maybe I should get a tattoo.

How was it that I was forty-five and hadn’t had a single tattoo yet? Wasn’t that like a rite of passage or something into adulthood? Did I miss it?

How did I never get a tattoo? Seriously, how?

I’d just finished a class of puppy training with eight pups of various breeds, six children who were there to “learn how to be good dog owners,” twelve adults of varying stages of adulthood, and none of them quite ready to do what it takes to be the owner of a well-behaved dog.

You know what quality you need to possess to raise a well-behaved dog? The ability to get past the but he’s such a cute wittle puppy, yes he is, such a sweet thing, he didn’t mean to do that wrong, oh who’s my baby puppy stage.

It usually happened by about the fourth session. Today was the second session, where all owners were still starry-eyed over their new acquisitions. Both kids and adults alike.

The tattoo that had triggered this thought process had been on one of the dads, albeit a younger dad. And he was the dad of a human child as well as the canine one. The guy looked all of maybe thirty and still as energetic and fresh-faced as a twenty-something. The tattoo on his arm had kept peeking out from his shirt sleeve; it was a dragon of some sort, with purples and blues and oranges swirling about. I’d nearly stopped class to ask him to pull his sleeve up, but thankfully, I got a grip before doing such a thing.

We were not at a dance club or a gay bar, for fuck’s sake, where it was expected that one’s tattoo would be eyeballed and most likely fondled.

No, we were at the Posh Paw Pet Spa and Resort and nowhere in its advertisement did it list that a dog trainer would ogle or fondle a client’s tattoos.

But wow, the tug of something in my gut was strong today. The tug of what, I was unsure of still, but that tattoo was definitely connected.

“Hey man, thanks for today. I think Cody got a lot out of it.” A man—one of the dads who did not have a dragon tattoo—held his hand out with a genuine smile.

“No problem,” I replied, looking between the boy and the dog, trying to recall which one was named Cody.

“Yeah, and I think Thor learned a lot too!” The kid, Cody apparently, piped up with absolute joy in his voice, causing me to chuckle and reach out to ruffle his hair.

“You both did good. Work on the commands this week. And remember, only use treats for rewards for what we’re working on, okay, buddy?”

The kid fist-bumped me and then tugged on the black lab’s leash.

“Thor?” I questioned the dad with a grin. “How did a black lab end up as Thor and not Loki?”

He grimaced. “Exactly what I tried to argue, but my wife was adamant that Cody got to pick the name. Fucking kids. We could have gotten—”

“A golden and named him Thor, and then you’d have had a pair.” I nodded. The dad, Sean I thought his name was, held up his fist in solidarity. I bumped it and he turned to go.

My eyes did a quick scan for the dragon tattoo.

Stop it, I chided myself. You’re just feeling the itch for a man, that’s all. Nothing new here.

Except when I thought about the actual man whose arm was inked, my dick didn’t even twitch. Not a bit.

So maybe it was the tattoo itself.

After everyone exited the fenced-in yard I used for training, I locked the gate and went inside to do end-of-day cleanup. Grabbing the mop bucket from the laundry room, I splashed in some disinfectant and quickly mopped up puppy accidents in the large room I called the classroom. The room itself was just a large room, with chairs along the walls and a set of doors that led out to the fenced yard. After finishing the cursory cleanup, I locked up and headed to the main building to check in with Eric and Cindy and pick up Luke and Leia before heading home.

Posh Paw Pet Spa and Resort had been the brainchild of Eric about eight years ago, thanks to a not-so-sober conversation with a stranger at bar who had a dog grooming service out of a local vet’s clinic and offered a few training classes as well.

That stranger was me and to this day, I would deny ever saying the phrase, “Posh Paw Pet Spa,” because it was still flat-out ridiculous. Eric’s wife, Cindy, had shown up mid-conversation, and the next thing I’d known, they’d bought five acres on the edge of the city and begged me to partner up with them—I would manage the grooming and training classes and they would handle the boarding and daycare.

Daycare. As in doggie daycare. Because apparently canines can no longer be left at home alone while their owners worked.

I had thrown what I had in savings into this ridiculous-sounding project because Alan had walked away from our forever life, and I’d honestly figured things couldn’t go further downhill, so why not invest in a fucking doggie daycare?

Eight years later, we were making money hand over fist because the human race is absolutely ridiculous in what they will buy into. The amount of money people will pay for their animals to have a healthy social life, aka daycare, or a vacation while their humans went on vacation was unreal.

Not that I was complaining about the money.

Or the fact that my two labs oftentimes stayed at daycare while I taught puppy school.

“Hey Cindy,” I said as I walked into the hotel portion of the business and snapped my fingers for Luke and Leia to come. “I’m heading out, you guys good?” My seven-year-old black labs—a brother and sister—jumped from their spot near the bay window of the of the reception area and skittered to a stop in front of me, noses nudging my hands for pets. I grinned at them and obliged.

Cindy looked up from the reception desk and grinned at me. “All good. You have a good class?”

“Perfect. It was fun, actually. Eric in the office?”

She nodded and waved me back.

Dogs pattering behind me, I found Eric with his feet kicked up on his desk, playing on his phone.

“Working hard?”

“Ah, fuck you. I’ve been invoicing this afternoon and running inventory. I’m fried now.” Eric looked up with tired but happy eyes. He could bitch about the proverbial paperwork, but he was a business man through and through, which is why this damned spa slash resort was such a success.

“Do you have tattoos?” I blurted, then mentally slapped myself.

He barked out a laugh. “Yeah, two. One on my chest and the other on my back. Wanna see?” And without waiting for an answer, he reached behind his head, fisted his t-shirt and pulled it off, standing up so I could see both front and back as he turned around.

I objectively gave him a once-over since the opportunity had presented itself. Eric was a good-looking guy, no arguments there, but knowing how happily married he was to Cindy was the best cockblocker there was. So I could note how well-defined his thirty-one year old body was without feeling pervy.

Eric did indeed have two tattoos—a Celtic symbol of some sorts on his back and a heart tangled with flowers on his chest.

“You have any?” he asked, pulling his shirt back on.

I shook my head. “Thinking maybe I need one.”

Eric laughed and tossed a pen at me. “You don’t get a tattoo because maybe you need one.”

I let the pen bounce off me to the floor and flipped him off. Snapping at Luke and Leia, I let myself out the back door to the employee parking lot. The dogs raced to my yellow Jeep, tails wagging furiously as they waited for me to open the door. Scrambling to the backseat like they were supposed to, they both eagerly waited for me to start it up and drive. I climbed in, noting with irritation the slight stab of pain in my lower back when I twisted the wrong way, which only flared up when I was overly tired.

Fuck, I was at an age where I had lower back flare ups if I wasn’t careful.

Pulling out of the parking lot and driving away from Posh Paw, I chuckled when Luke gave a woof for me to drive faster. They loved the Jeep since I kept the top off most of the time. I loved the Jeep too. But it hadn’t cured the tug in my stomach.

Hmm, what tattoo should I get?

* * *


“Scott, I’ve tried to tell you that you need something for you. A hobby or something. Your whole life has revolved around Claire for years,” my friend Jon said, after listening to me complain for the thousandth time that I was bored in my giant house by myself.

“I know, and I expected to be sad she was gone. My little girl is all grown up. It's no surprise I miss her. But I didn’t expect to feel so lost and aimless. It isn’t like she’s been around a lot this past year anyway with boyfriends, schoolwork, and tennis. She was never really home so why does the house feel so empty? Did I tell you she even took the cat?”

Jon chuckled. “Yeah, I know. I’m your vet, remember? I had to provide the shot records so the apartment would let her bring her.”

“Apartment,” I scoffed. “What the hell is with that, anyway? When I went to college you had to live in the dorms freshman year.”

“Claire will be fine, she’s a good kid. Stop trying to make this about her. This is about you. Other than these weekly lunches with me and trips to the grocery store, do you go out and do anything?”

“I run every morning,” I said defiantly.

“By yourself. Doesn’t count. You need companionship and a purpose. You need a pet and I have just the one you need.”

“What?” I asked with caution. With Jon, you never could tell. He was a large animal vet, but he also had experience with exotic animals, and being from a relatively small city, he treated family pets as well. He was just as likely to suggest some weird lizard as he was a normal pet.

“Nothing unusual, don’t worry. I learned my lesson when I tried to get you to take the sugar glider for Claire,” he said laughing. “The look on your face was priceless.”

“It was a freaking squirrel, man!”

“No, it was a sugar glider. But this is nothing like that. It’s just a puppy.”

“I can’t have a puppy. You’ve seen the way Spaz acts around dogs!”

“I have, but guess what? Claire took Spaz with her, remember? You can have a dog now. It’ll be good for you. You can take her to the dog park and meet people. Hey, remember Craig Baker? He has a dog training class you could take the puppy to. I’m telling you, this is what you need.”

“Craig Baker from high school? I haven’t seen him in years.”

“Yeah, he’s great with dogs. Well, with dog owners anyway. That’s really who the training is for.”

I looked at him warily. “I don’t know Jon, what kind of dog is it? Is it house trained? Puppies are a lot of work.”

“They are, but you’re home all day, so you have the time. She’s a miniature schnauzer. Come on, just come meet her. She’s at the clinic, and before you ask, yes, she is healthy. There were some issues when she was born, and the breeder brought her in. She was the runt of the litter and was tiny. Her ears also weren’t right to be show quality; they creased in the wrong place, so the breeder didn’t want to keep her.”

“Let me guess,” I laughed. “You offered to take her.”

“She’s adorable. Come see her, okay?”

Three hours and a trip to the local big box pet store later, I was still trying to figure out how I ended up with a dog. She was adorable and sweet and hyper as all get out. I took her out in the backyard and let her run until she was panting and came to sit in front of me.

“Okay pretty girl, you need a name. How about Sissy?” She looked at me with her head cocked to one side.

“No? Okay, how about Gracie?” Her head tilted to the other side, one ear sticking up, the other one down.

“Still no? You’re so cute. I can’t believe those people didn’t like your ears. Those imperfect ears are perfect for you,” I cooed reaching down to pet her. “That’s it!” I told her. “We’ll call you Sabi short for wabi-sabi. Because your imperfection makes you special.” That suggestion earned me a lick and a bark, so I figured it was unanimous.



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