Charlie Chuckles

MidsummersNightmareSensible Tobias doesn’t believe in ghosts, possession, fate or even happy ever after. Past experience and a cheating boyfriend have taught him so. But all that changes after he has the Monday morning from hell and bumps into his new neighbor Flynn and his dog, Charlie, in the hallway. After all, it’s not every day one hears a dog chuckle.way to peace as an immortal, and Edward learns what real love – and a real lover – is.

This story is 8,000 words in length.

 


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EXCERPT
© Clare London

“Flynn,” he said.  He stuck out his hand.  “That’s me.  Sorry for the crash, you know?”

What did I know?  I continued to stare at him, though my mother would have rolled her eyes at my rudeness.  My hand returned the shake instinctively: his palm was warm and firm. The coffee seemed to have made my face and neck hot as well as my chest.  “I think I’m the one should be apologizing.”

He shook his head.  His hair was quite long, the curls bouncing on his shoulders when he moved like that.  “Nah.  Damned pooch got under my feet.  He’s been doing that all morning.”  He looked down at the hairy bundle that also seemed to have made its way into my kitchen.  “Charles? What’s up with you, buddy?”

“Charles?”

Flynn grinned.  “Some ex of my sister’s left him behind one summer, he’s an adopted family pet.”  He must have seen the confusion on my face as I tried to match question with answer.  “The ex was a Brit called Charles.  The dog was the best thing she got out of that deal, and we named it after him.  Charlie on a daily basis, Charles when he pisses me off.”  He flopped comfortably down onto one of my kitchen chairs and reached under the table, ruffling the dog’s ears.  I saw his expression soften.  “I’m dog-sitting while she’s out of town for a few days.  He’s never been any trouble.  Just today.”

“Today?”

Flynn peered at me.  “Sorry, you got a speech problem or something? I mean, it’s no problem to me, I can talk enough for us both…”

“I’m fine,” I said, sharply.  I sat down as well, but rather abruptly, and not quite as comfortably.  “It’s just…well, I don’t like dogs.”

Flynn stared at me.  The dog lifted his shaggy head and large, dark brown eyes stared at me as well.  I understood the derivation of the word ‘limpid’.

“I mean…” I felt surprisingly ill-prepared for all of this.

“You mean,” Flynn interrupted helpfully, “You didn’t like them before now.”

“Yes.”  I barely recognized my own voice.  “Probably that’s it.”

Flynn smiled encouragingly at me.  He slung an arm over the back of the chair.  It drew attention to the fact his bare torso was…well, still bare.  Charles stood up on his four short legs and pattered across my kitchen. His feet made tapping noises on the tiles and the tag on his collar clinked as he moved.  He nosed about under my fridge then snorted as if for the world he was disappointed at the well-swept floor underneath.

“Nice place you have,” Flynn said.  “Mine…well.”

He didn’t seem to want to elucidate.  I tore my gaze away from him and caught sight of the digital timer set neatly on the top of the counter.  “Oh God, I’m so very late for work.”  The meeting was scheduled to start in fifteen minutes.  I stood up, just as abruptly as I’d sat down, wondering where I’d left the briefcase, trying to remember which clean shirts I could change into.  As if I didn’t usually have all that information at my fingertips.  “This has never happened to me before.  It’s been an astonishing morning.”

“For me, too,” Flynn nodded.  “Except I’ve never been so early.”  He grinned at me.  “Bar work, you know? I don’t usually start the day until late.  But Charlie’s been scratching at the kitchen cupboards since dawn, pretty unusual for him.  Then something set off an alarm in the building across the way – that overlooks my kitchen window, you know? Plus a couple of cats chose that time to start a fight in the alley.”  He shrugged.  “So much damned noise, I just decided to get up anyway and take Charlie for his walk.”  He gave a large yawn and stretched up his arms.  Belatedly catching my eye, he cupped his hand over his mouth.  I was – embarrassingly – more interested in the muscles bunching across his shoulders than his manners.

Flynn was looking at me rather curiously.  “What a day, eh?” His voice was soft.

“I’ll call.  Work, that is,” I said, quickly.  I still had five minutes left to ask them to hold the meeting for me.  I reached for the handset on the wall at just about the same time Charles barked and his head went up.  Perhaps it was something he saw in the hallway.  I never had the chance to ask.  He went from stationary to ballistic missile in three seconds flat, speeding past me on his way out of the kitchen on the upward thrust.  I fell forward over him, the phone still in my hand and Flynn leaping up from his chair with a cry of alarm.

I found myself back on my ass, this time on my own floor, and also this time tangled up with a half-naked Flynn.  I realized I was still gripping the phone.  Not that it’d do me any good.   The end of its wires waved around like Medusa’s hair, ripped from the wall as I fell.

“Got to stop meeting like this,” Flynn gasped.  His skin was warm under me.

“My cell charger is broken,” I blurted out.

Flynn, to give him credit, knew exactly what I was saying with this particular non sequitur.  He wriggled out from under me with a rueful smile, holding on to my hand, presumably to help me regain my stability.  “And I don’t have my cell on me, man.  I’m sorry.  You thought of taking vacation today?”

I was horrified to find I felt like weeping.  All over the bare torso, my head buried in the crook of Flynn’s neck.  It was shock.  Over by the door, Charles stood to attention, staring at us both, now down on his level.  He made a strange noise in the back of his throat.

“If I didn’t know it was totally weird,” Flynn said slowly, frowning, “I’d say that was a chuckle.”

 

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