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Chapter no 10 – The Leash

Lessons in Chemistry

Elizabeth hadn’t had a pet before and she wasn’t sure she had one now. Six-Thirty wasn’t human, but he seemed to possess a humanity that far surpassed what she’d found in most people.

That’s why she didn’t buy him a leash—it seemed wrong. Insulting, even. He rarely strayed far from her side, never crossed the street without looking, didn’t chase cats. In fact, the only time he’d ever bolted was on the Fourth of July when a firecracker exploded right in front of him. After hours of worried searching, she and Calvin finally found him tucked behind some trash cans in an alleyway, shaking in shame.

But when the city passed its very first leash law, she found herself reconsidering the idea, although for more complicated reasons. As her attachment to the dog grew, so too grew the idea of attaching the dog to her.

So she bought a leash and hung it on the coatrack in their hallway and waited for Calvin to notice. But after a week, he still hadn’t.

“I got Six-Thirty a leash,” she finally announced. “Why?” Calvin asked.

“It’s the law,” she explained. “What law?”

She described the new law and he laughed. “Oh—that. Well, that doesn’t apply to us. It’s for people who don’t have a dog like Six-Thirty.”

“No, it’s for everyone. It’s new. I’m pretty sure they mean business.”

He smiled. “Don’t worry. Six-Thirty and I pass the precinct almost every day. The police know us.”

“But that’s about to change,” she insisted. “Probably because there’s been a surge in pet deaths. A lot more dogs and cats are getting hit by cars.” She didn’t know if this was factually true, but it seemed like it certainly could be. “Anyway, yesterday I took Six-Thirty out on a walk and used the leash. He liked it.”

“I can’t run with a leash,” Calvin said, glancing up. “I hate feeling tethered. Besides, he always stays right with me.”

“Something could happen.” “What could happen?”

“He could run out into the street. He could get hit. Remember the firecracker? It’s not you I’m worried about,” she said. “It’s him.”

Calvin smiled to himself. It was a side of Elizabeth he’d never seen before: a mothering instinct.

“By the way,” he said, “there’s lightning in the forecast. Dr. Mason called—rowing’s been canceled the rest of the week.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said, trying not to sound relieved. She’d rowed in the men’s eight four times now, and each time it had left her more exhausted than she cared to admit. “Did he say anything else?” She didn’t want to sound like she was fishing for a compliment, but she was. Dr. Mason seemed like a decent man; he always spoke to her as an equal. Calvin had mentioned he was an obstetrician.

“He mentioned we’re in the lineup for next week,” Calvin said. “And that he’d like us to consider a regatta in the spring.”

“You mean a race?”

“You’ll love it. It’s fun.”

Actually, Calvin was pretty sure she might not love it. Racing was stressful. The fear of losing was bad enough, but there was also that knowledge that the row itself was going to hurt, that once the word “Attention!” was called, the rower would risk heart attack, cracked ribs, lung donation—whatever it took—just to earn that dime-store medal at the end. Coming in second? Please. It wasn’t called first loser for nothing.

“Sounds interesting,” she lied. “It really is,” he lied back.

“Rowing was canceled, remember?” Calvin said two days later, surprised to sense Elizabeth getting dressed in the dark. He reached for his alarm clock. “It’s four a.m. Come back to bed.”

“I can’t sleep,” she said. “I think I’ll go into work early.”

“No,” he begged. “Stay with me.” He pulled at the covers and motioned her back in.

“I’ll put that potato dish in the oven on low,” she said, slipping on some shoes. “It’ll make a good breakfast for you.”

“Look, if you’re going, I’m going,” he said, yawning. “Just give me a few minutes.”

“No, no,” she said. “You sleep.”

He woke an hour later to find himself alone. “Elizabeth?” he called.

He padded his way to the kitchen, where a pair of oven mitts sat on the counter. Enjoy the potatoes, she’d written. See you soon xoxoxo E.

“Let’s run to work this morning,” he called to Six-Thirty. He didn’t actually feel like going on a run, but that way they could all ride home together in one car. It wasn’t because he cared about saving gas; it was because he couldn’t stand the thought of Elizabeth driving home alone. There were trees out there. And trains.

She’d hate it if she knew how much he worried and fussed, so he kept it to himself. But how could he not fuss over the person he loved more than anything, more than seemed even possible? Besides, she fussed over him too—making sure he ate, constantly suggesting he run indoors with Jack, buying a leash, of all things.

Out of the corner of his eye he spied some bills and made a mental note to file the latest crop of flimflam correspondence. He’d gotten yet another letter from the woman claiming to be his mother—They told me you’d died,

she always wrote. He’d also gotten one from an illiterate who claimed Calvin had stolen all his ideas, and another from a so-called long-lost brother who wanted money. Oddly, no one had ever written pretending to be his father. Maybe because his father was still out there, pretending he’d never had a son.

Since he’d left the boys home, the only other person, besides the bishop, to whom he’d ever admitted his father grudge, was—of all people— a pen pal. He’d never met the man but they’d managed to establish a strong friendship. Maybe because, like confession, they both found it easier to talk to someone they couldn’t see. But when the subject of fathers came up— this was after a year of steady no-holds-barred correspondence—everything changed. Calvin had let it drop that he hoped his father was dead, and his pen pal, apparently shocked, reacted in a way Calvin hadn’t expected. He stopped writing back.

Calvin assumed he’d crossed a line—the man was religious and he was not; maybe hoping your father was dead wasn’t something one admitted in ecclesiastical circles. But whatever the reason, their tête-à-tête was over. He felt depressed for months.

That’s why he’d decided not to mention the fact of his undead father to Elizabeth. He deeply worried that she’d either react like his ex-friend had and drop him, or suddenly wake up to what the bishop had once described as his fatal flaw: an innate unlovability. Calvin Evans, ugly both inside and out. She had turned down his marriage proposal.

Anyway, if he told her now, she might question why he hadn’t told her before. And that was dangerous because she might ask herself what else had he left out?

No, some things were better left unsaid. Besides, she’d kept her work troubles to herself, hadn’t she? Having a few secrets in a close relationship was normal.

He pulled on his old track pants, then rummaged in their shared sock drawer, his mood lifting as he caught a whiff of her perfume. He’d never been one for self-improvement—never even gotten through Dale Carnegie’s book about making friends and influencing people because ten pages in he

realized he didn’t care what anyone else thought. But that was before Elizabeth—before he realized that making her happy made him happy. Which, he thought, as he grabbed his tennis shoes, had to be the very definition of love. To actually want to change for someone else.

As he bent down to tie his laces, his chest filled with something new. Was it gratitude? He, the early orphaned, never-before-loved, unattractive Calvin Evans, had, by hook or by crook, found this woman, this dog, this research, this row, this run, Jack. It was all so much more than he’d ever expected, so much more than he ever deserved.

He looked at his watch: 5:18 a.m. Elizabeth was sitting on a stool, her centrifuges on full spin. He whistled for Six-Thirty to come meet him at the front door. It was a little over five miles to work, and running together, they could be there in forty-two minutes. But as he opened the door, Six-Thirty hesitated. It was dark and drizzly.

“Come on, boy,” Calvin said. “What’s wrong?”

Then he remembered. He turned back, grabbed the leash, bent down, and clipped it to Six-Thirty’s collar. Securely connected to the dog for the very first time, Calvin turned and locked the door behind him.

He was dead thirty-seven minutes later.

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