Paw to floor, paw to floor, paw to floor, paw to floor. Darling, the vibrant young pup, galloped through the streets with determination. Paw to floor…Paw…to the floor…a slower paced but just as ambitious squirrel tries to keep up.

“Slow down, las.” Penelope pleaded. “These old lungs are working overtime.” She said through sporadic breathes. “I need a break.”

“No need.” Darling responded as she stopped allowing Penelope to catch up on her own terms. Which resembled a slow crawl. “We’re here.”

They stood in front of a large well-groomed lawn filled with green grass and bright white gardenias stretching from one side to the next. The building a far cry from the duo’s previous stop. A modern design comprised of metal and glass. No indications on the building itself, just a sign positioned at the entrance near the sensors of the automatic doors.

“Arthur Phillip’s Center for Senior Living” Penelope read staring up at the sign. “If this is some kinda joke it’s not funny.” She warned as she followed Darling through the open doors.

Darling laughed, “Now that you mention it, I think you might fit right in here.”

“Not funny, las!” Penelope reminded Darling.

Darling further jested. “Should I find you a room?” As she turned down a corridor.

Angered, Penelope halted and folded her arms. “I’ll leave right now if you insist on this behavior!”

Darling couldn’t help but smirk as she irritated Penelope. “I never took you for the sensitive type, Penelope.” She said as she continued their trek through the labyrinth layout basking at the fact that she got under the squirrel’s skin.

“I’m not sensitive. I just don’t like being kept in the dark when I’m trying to help you.” Penelope reassured as she observed the luxurious milieu of the institute. “And I hate to sound like a broken record but what are we doing here?”

“What’s a record?” Darling asked Penelope, causing her to stop and clutch her collar in shock.

“Maybe I do belong here if you don’t know what a -” Penelope started only to be promptly interrupted.

“Penelope, I’m kidding.” Darling humored through her laughs. I’m glad we’re here. You need to learn to lighten up.”

Confused, Penelope demanded answers. “What does me having to lighten up…which I don’t, by the way, have to do with why we’re here? And WHAT were you doing here?”

“For the same reason Doc hangs around you, I presume.” Darling vaguely answered.

“Because you moved in under my tree and like to talk a lot?” Penelope responded.

Darling pranced up a stairwell with Penelope in tow. Wondering in and out of corridors with familiarity and no care of exposure. Normally an infiltration like this, especially for Penelope, would call for a more clandestine approach.

“Hey, wait. There’s a nurse coming!” Penelope exclaimed, in what could only be described as a loud whisper as she hid behind a pillar.

Unfazed by the warning, Darling continued pace without missing a step, leaving Penelope dumbfounded. That is until Penelope saw a shimmer in the distance.

“Darling look, in the corner.” Penelope jumps in excitement. “I think I see your necklace.”

The two detectives took off running to the shining star of possibility completely exposed and in the open, only to be disappointed. Penelope looked over the object.

“It’s a…a…” Penelope stuttered before Darling chimed in.

“It’s a bracelet.” Darling said definitively, “And it belongs to Ms. H.”

“Who’s Ms. H?” Penelope inquired.

Darling leaned forward and scooped the bracelet up with her nose and shimmied it around her neck.

“This way.” She said gesturing with her head causing Penelope to follow. “This place is filled with people with the BIGGEST of personalities.”

Darling entered a room and headed to a nightstand filled with orange see-through prescription bottles. Darling walked to the foot of the nightstand, leaned her head forward and let the bracelet slide down off her neck onto the floor near the leg of the nightstand.

“What was that about?” Penelope wondered to Darling.

Darling sat. “Like I said this place is full of personalities. These people may be older but they’ve lived. They have experiences that you can learn from, if you just sit back and listen. This is where a lot of knowledge of the world exist.”

“In a senior center?” Penelope asked in clarification.

” In the seniors, themselves.” Darling corrected. “They’ve lived. They learned. They talk…and if we listen, we learn and we live…without making the mistakes they did.”

Penelope grips her chin in thought and realized, “Like Doc and I.”

Darling silently nodded in affirmation. “That bracelet belongs to someone hear we call Ms. H. She was stood up at the alter on her wedding day. Her groom-to-be never showed up.”

“That’s horrible.” Penelope gasped, taken back in disgust.

Darling continued, “She was devastated! Embarrassed.”

“I can only imagine.” Penelope empathized.

Darling put her head down in sadness. “She never got over it completely. Occasionally she puts on her wedding dress, accessories and all, and relives that morning.”

The seemingly cold Penelope began to tear up. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.” She said balling her hat up, as she attempted to fight her emotions.

“Yes and no.” Darling proclaimed. “She never remembers the sad parts. When I’m with her, she spends all morning brushing my coat, telling me how happy and excited she is…in all actuality, I think every day she wears her wedding dress is the happiest time of her life and I like to think I’m a part of that.”

Penelope nodded in agreement and clarified, “So, THAT’S why your coat’s so smooth!! It all makes sense now. Someone would have to be crazy to brush your hair that many times in one sitting.”

Darling silently appreciated Penelope’s humor to lighten the topic and used her paw to cover her mouth and contain her laughter.

“There’s many more great people and stories here too!” Darling reassured. “Mr. Wilkins is the sweetest guy ever, not a mean-spirited bone in his body. You can’t help but adore him.” She gushed. “Then there’s another guy here they call Ebbie. He’s the grouchiest thing EVER! He’s like someone put you and B together and stepped on your foot – but when his wife, Isabella, is around he takes nothing for granted and appreciates everything.” Darling says in admiration. “He loves his Belle. She makes him whole.”

As Penelope watched Darling speak of her elder friends, she could almost see hearts circling around Darling’s head. The small dog’s eyes wide and tail wagging, could barely sit still.

“You really like being here don’t you?!” Penelope asked in a matter of fact tone.

Darling simply stared at a black and white photo of the group she mentioned early in their younger years in an unspoken confirmation.

“Maybe you’re not as hollow a tree as I thought.” Penelope said.

“Thank…you?” Darling questioned as she contemplated the backhand compliment.

“I’m serious!” Penelope shouted. “Your nails are trimmed by an orphan that you bring joy to, your coat is groomed by a senior citizen that you help bask in nostalgia.”

Penelope circled Darling and gave her the ‘once over’.

“It’s like your whole outer ingenuous appearance is just good deeds come to physical fruition.”

“Hey!” Darling sounded in offense.

“It’s a good thing, las.” Penelope promptly affirmed. “It means I judged you, before I knew you and that’s not a good thing to do.”

“Oh, well okay then.” Darling accepted.

“And…” Penelope mumbled inaudibly.

“Wait, what was that?” Darling inquired. “I couldn’t hear that last part.”

“I SAID…” Penelope spoke at a high volume before returning down to finish. “I’m sorry for that.” Penelope folded her arms in a fuss.

Darling smiled, laughed and without warning licked Penelope. Penelope gasped, coughed and scoffed, as if she just emerged from a pool of water. She vigorously wiped her face only to see Darling jogging away off in the distance.

“INAPPROPRIATE!!” Penelope exclaimed. “And where are you going now?”

The distance between Darling and Penelope increased as they spoke.

“Hurry up!” Darling yelled to Penelope. “I know where to look next.”

Penelope followed suit as Darling gave one last warning. “And I’m not carrying you!”


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