“Yes, of course, Mrs Di Valessio. Thank you for understanding. See you and little Princess in two weeks.” Coran hung up the phone. He ran his index finger down the list of names, found ‘Princess’, and highlighted the line.
Lance peered over Coran’s shoulder. “Was that the last one? That looks like the last one.”
“It is, my boy. As of three o’clock Friday, we are closed for a week!”
“Woohoo!” Lance cheered. A cacophony of yips, barks, and meows greeted his jubilation from the waiting room. “Oops.”
Coran chuckled. “I’ll write an office memo. Back to work. I think Mr. Glow is up next.”
Lance looked into the waiting room at the giant Saint Bernard. “Cuddles!” he called, and the dog stood up, ears perked forwards. Lance walked towards the well-trained dog. “Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy!”
The dog placed his large front paws on the tall young man’s shoulders, almost over-balancing him.
“Is it time to dance? Dance?” Lance asked Cuddles, who wagged his tail and stepped from foot to foot. “Such a good boy!” He scratched behind the dog’s ear. “Are you ready for your check up? You’ll be good for Dr. Shiro, won’t you? Yes, you will.” He dropped to a formal tone and said, “Right this way, Mr. Glow.”
The dog dropped back to all fours and waited attentively for his owner.
Lance led them to one of the rooms for larger animals, weighed and examined Cuddles, and filled out the electronic form based on a series of questions and answers. “He looks very healthy, Mr. Glow. His back is healing alright? The kids are treating him better?”
“For the most part, yes.”
“I know Cuddles looks like he could be used a horse, but his back isn’t built for riding. Keep the kids, even the littlest ones, off of him.” Lance cautioned.
Shiro entered the room and Lance left to greet the next patient after a parting rub on the dog’s head.
The rest of the week passed quickly, filled with animals, fun, and gossip with the team over hurried lunches in the break room. On Friday, the office was buzzing with excitement for their impending vacation.
After the last patient had left at quarter to three, Lance let out a cheer. “Time to part-ay! Who’s riding with me? I’ve got my playlist all set up to rock it out on the way up.”
“I’ve got to swing by and pick up my brother on the way,” said Shiro. “He finishes at three thirty. Allura, did you want to go with Lance? You know the way, right?”
After jockeying for positions in the two cars, it was agreed that Allura, Coran, and Hunk would ride with Lance, and Shiro would drive Adam, Pidge, and his brother Keith.
“We’ll stop by the grocery store on the way,” said Allura. “Since we don’t have to wait for Keith and Adam.”
This was met with approval, even though it meant shifting the luggage around to move the giant cooler from Shiro’s car to Lance’s.
“There are farms on the way, right?” asked Lance. “We can stop to get fresh produce and berries.”
“Great idea. Then we’ll go to the grocers in the small town near the cottage to get everything else.” Allura suggested.
The two hour drive into cottage country was beautiful, with rolling fields, sparkling rivers, and quaint towns dotted along the highway. They bounced along to Lance’s playlist, singing and head-banging to the beat. They bought corn on the cob, raspberries, and strawberries at various farms, and found a farmer’s market with tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, potatoes, and radishes.
“We’re going to need baking supplies, breads, condiments, drinks, and meats,” said Hunk, checking off his list once they got on their way again. “I’m thinking chicken and ground beef, for two dinners at least. Hamburger buns, loaves of bread, orange juice, fruit punch, pop, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, peanut butter, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, and barbeque sauce. We’re going to have to go shopping again in a couple days. I don’t think we can buy enough for eight people in one run.”
“You’re probably right,” agreed Allura. “Then everybody can vote on what to have for meals together. I think there’s another farmer’s market in town, too.”
“There’s nothing like the fresh stuff.” Coran licked his lips in anticipation.
Allura directed Lance to the small grocers in town, and they filled up the car with everything on Hunk’s list. Then they crossed the street to the liquor store and topped off their excursion with large quantities of alcohol.
“Having a party?” leered the attendant as Allura handed over her credit card to pay for the vodka, beer, and wine.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Lance and Hunk stifled their giggles and hid grins as they carried the cases out to the car.
Their shopping had taken some time, so when they got to the cottage, they ended up parking behind Shiro’s car.
“Come help us unload!” called Allura in the direction of the opened back door.
“Dinner at eight. Seven, if I can have two helpers,” said Hunk cheerfully, unpacking the chicken.
“What do you need?” asked Shiro.
“Put me to work!” Coran chimed in.
“I want to explore the cottage and pick my room,” said Lance. “I assume everyone else has already chosen?”
“Yeah, sorry buddy.” Shiro looked slightly guilty. “All the rooms but one are taken. You’ll have to share with Hunk.”
“Hey, sleepover!” Lance wrapped an arm around Hunk’s neck enthusiastically. He sniffed at the spice, barbeque sauce, and breadcrumb mixture that Hunk was kneading. “Smells good.”
“I snore, so I’m not sure how much sleep you’re going to get at this ‘sleepover’.” Hunk air-quoted with gooey fingers. “Maybe I should sleep on the couch.”
“Nonsense! It’ll be fine. I’ll just nudge you every time you snore.”
“Okay.” Hunk didn’t look convinced.
“Your room is upstairs at the end of the hallway on the right,” directed Shiro, hands busy washing potatoes. “Adam’s and mine is opposite theirs on the left. Allura, you’ve got the bunk beds with Pidge next to us.”
“I’ll bring your bag up, Hunky Monkey!” Lance swung both duffels over his shoulders and took the stairs two at a time. On the landing, he had to twist awkwardly to allow a dark haired man pass by. “Hey! Keith, right?” Lance grinned.
“Yeah,” said Keith shortly. He brushed past Lance and clumped down the rest of the stairs, leaving Lance flabbergasted.
“The gall!” Lance muttered to himself, continuing up to the second level. “So rude. And we have to put up with Grumpy McGrumperpants for a whole week? He’s going to ruin our vacation.” He turned left and walked the short distance to the last door, passing by a small, single bed bedroom and a bathroom. The door to his room for the week was open. Lance walked into the mint green room and dropped the bags on the bed, eyes glued to the view of the lake through the giant window. The setting sun illuminated the ripples in the water, shining like sparkling diamonds.
A noise in the hall, probably Allura bringing up her bags, broke his daydreaming. Quickly, he unpacked his bag into the dresser across from the bed, and bounced back down the stairs, Keith the furthest person from his mind, until he spotted him nursing a beer next to Hunk at the grill. “Let me set the table,” he said to Coran. “Where are the utensils?”
“I think I ate too much,” said Pidge, reclining in their chair and rubbing their stomach.
“That was delicious, Hunk. I nominate you honorary chef for the week.” Allura smiled at him.
“Seconded!” Coran patted his mouth with a napkin. “I haven’t tasted cooking like that since my Nan!”
“To make things fair, you won’t have to do dishes,” Shiro bargained. “All in favour, say ‘aye’.”
A chorus went around the table, much to Hunk’s embarrassment and delight. “Aww, guys,” he said, blushing.
“Pidge and I will do dishes, since we didn’t help with dinner. Lance, can you help us clear the table?” Allura got to her feet with her plate and juice glass.
After helping, Lance joined the others on the deck patio, picked out a deck chair, and reclined on it with the rest of his beer from dinner. He gazed up at the stars, tracing imaginary constellations between them.
“If you look straight up, you’ll see the big dipper,” a soft voice was saying. “Trace the handle of it, and keep going. Arc to Arcturus. That’s the really bright one there. And speed on to Spica, the bright one almost on the horizon. If you look closely…”
Lance lifted his head to see who it was that was talking. Of course it was Keith, talking to Shiro. Why wasn’t he helping with the dishes? It’s not like he had helped Hunk barbeque. Lance laid back down and tried to shut his voice out.
It didn’t work.
“We’re really lucky. We can see Jupiter and Venus in the night sky for the next few weeks. See, there and there. Saturn will show up by the end of the week, but right now it’s too low on the horizon to see.”
“How do you know all this, Keith?” asked Hunk. “Are stars your hobby?”
“Hobby and profession,” replied Keith. “I’m an astrophysicist.”
“Whoa, that’s so cool, man!” Hunk enthused. “Do you get to work with NASA?”
Keith chuckled. “No, I work with the University. It’s a lot of looking at specks and doing calculations on light spectrums.”
“Sounds boring,” said Lance.
“Yeah, it can be.” Keith frowned. “But any science can be boring.”
“Not vet science!” Lance protested vehemently, sitting upright and glaring at Keith. “Every animal is unique, provides challenges, and is fun!”
“Nobody is disparaging vet science, Lance,” placated Adam.
“If you describe vet science as looking at animals and diagnosing them, it sounds pretty boring to me,” retorted Keith. “You just don’t understand the delicate minutiae of my job.”
“And I wouldn’t want to,” scoffed Lance.
“So,” said Keith loudly over Lance. “How did all of you end up working at the same vet clinic?”
“Well,” Adam started to say, but was nudged playfully by Shiro.
“You don’t work with us!” Shiro laughed. “You’re a pilot.”
“I can pretend, can’t I?”
“Shiro and I wanted to work together after university and when my father passed away, I put my inheritance into building a vet clinic,” said Allura.
“Lance, Pidge, and I were in the vet tech program together in college. When we went looking for our co-op placements, Allura and Shiro’s clinic was looking for vet techs and took us on. We worked well together, and they hired us right after graduation,” added Hunk.
“Were you friends before?” Keith asked.
“Pidge wasn’t until we started the co-op, but Hunk and I have been friends since high school,” said Lance with a yawn. He swallowed the last of his beer and stood. “I’m ready for bed. Hunk?”
“Good night everyone!” Hunk waved and followed Lance into the cottage.