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Read, Write, Love at Seaside(9)

By:Addison Cole

“Thank you. Poor Pepper hates this, but you know I hate to leave him home alone. I worry he’d be lonely.”

Pepper heard his name and barked, pulling against his leash as Leanna untied it from the table leg. His white fur was now brown with dirt on his belly and paws.

“Pepper, calm down. Please.”

Pepper pulled and pulled, and the jars on the table clanked together. When she finally freed the leash from the table leg, he took off running.

Leanna ran her hand through her hair and sighed. Her shoulders slumped forward. She loved the little curly-haired brat, but he sure tried her patience.

Carey laughed.

She held her palms up with a shake of her head. “Off I go.”

Leanna headed toward the snack bar, Pepper’s destination of choice. Vendor tents were set up in lines of twelve, with wide paths between them for customers. Each vendor had their own setup of tables or clothing racks. Some even set their products on blankets on the blacktop. One of the things Leanna loved most about the flea market was the diversity of what was offered. There were booths with antiques, and booths with what looked to be garage sale items. Hippie clothing, leather products, jewelry, and books were also sold. As she passed by a clothing vendor and neared the snack bar, the scent of popcorn and hot dogs filled the air, reminding her of when she’d come to the drive-in with her parents and siblings as a child. She smiled at the memory, enjoying the brief walk in search of her dog.

On one side of the snack bar was a patio with picnic tables and bleachers beneath a small awning. She found Pepper on the other side of the snack bar, at the little sandy playground, running circles around a group of children, jumping playfully into the air, slowing down just long enough to pant. The children, who looked to be six or seven years old, giggled with delight while the parents stood close by with mildly concerned eyes, obviously wondering if this jumping, happy dog posed a danger as he licked the toes of one of the little girls.

Leanna loved Pepper so much it made her heart ache, everything about him, from his crazy barking to his running away, and she knew he was about as harmful as a baby. He’d kill them with cuteness before he’d bite anyone.

“He won’t bite. Do you mind if he plays with them?” she asked a twenty-something couple. With their consent, she leaned on the split-rail fence surrounding the park and watched for a minute or two before saving the children from enjoying themselves too much.

“Aww, please can he stay?” asked a wide-eyed girl with pigtails.

“Please? Please?” asked another little boy.

Leanna looked toward her booth, where a group of women were perusing her products. Carey hadn’t moved from his laid-back perch. What’s another few bucks?

Thinking of Pepper and the way he’d taken off into the ocean, she snagged his leash and sat on the ground with him while the kids petted him. This is what life is about. Living in the moment was something Leanna was very good at, and this moment filled her with joy—but joy didn’t pay the bills. Leanna had a trust fund, passed down from her great-grandfather, but other than dipping into it to pay for college, she’d made a decision a few years earlier not to touch that money if she could help it. She wanted to find something that made her feel whole and fulfilled, and if she relied on her trust fund, she’d never experience enough on her own to fill that need. She lived simply, and even though she’d begun worrying about if she’d ever find a fulfilling career, she liked knowing that if or when she did, she’d have found it on her own, and she hadn’t simply sat back and used her great-grandfather’s hard-earned money.

After the children had played for a few more minutes, Leanna returned to take down her booth for the afternoon. Carey finished taking down his display and loading up his 1979 Dodge van. He smacked the door of his rust-orange-colored van, as he did every day. Good luck, you know?

“If you had a van like mine, you wouldn’t need luck.” Leanna glanced at her hand-painted 1968 Volkswagen Bus, which her father had given her as a college graduation gift. She wiped sweat from her forehead with her forearm, then placed the last insulated container of jam into the back of the van.

Carey leaned against his van. He was easy on the eyes, six feet of lean muscle, with angular features, full lips, and green eyes.

“Maybe you’re right. Your happy mobile doesn’t break down like my van does. Wanna hit the beach?” he asked.

She looked at Pepper sprawled out in the back of the van and debated going with Carey. They had fun hanging out together. Carey was nice and he was definitely hot, but Leanna wasn’t attracted to him as anything more than a friend. That had surprised her at first, given their close proximity the last two months and the good times they’d shared, but when she looked at him, she saw a nice guy. A friend. And it stopped there. Now her mind drifted to Kurt—in his Calvin Klein briefs—and a shiver ran up her spine, sending a tingling to the parts of her that hadn’t felt anything for months. She had more important things on her mind than finding a man, but she was still female.