In Elsa Watson's Dog Days, struggling cafe owner Jessica Sheldon volunteered to be the chairperson of Woofinstock, Madrona's annual dog festival, to overcome her reputation as ""number one dog hater"" in her dog crazy Northwestern town. Determined to prove her dog-loving credentials, Jessica rescues Zoe, a stray white German shepherd-- and in the process the two are struck by lightning.Jessica wakes to discover paws where her feet should be, and watches in horror as her body staggers around the town square.... Zoe and Jessica have switched bodies. Learning to live as a dog is difficult enough, but Jessica's real worry is saving her caf? from financial ruin. To complicate matters, she's falling hard for Max, the town veterinarian.It's clear that Zoe is thrilled to live life on ""human terms,"" thoroughly relishing all of the fun and food Woofinstock has to offer. But Zoe is also anxious to use her new human skills to find her missing family--who may not want her back. And Jessica needs to confront a complicated figure from her past before she can move on with her life.Jessica and Zoe will need to learn from each other to set things right, and possibly find acceptance and love in the bargain. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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May 22, 2012
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Excerpt from Dog Days by Elsa Watson
The Day I Became a Dog
Rain splashed down as I dodged puddles, wishing I'd worn something more sensible than heels. I pushed myself to go faster, thinking of the importance of my mission. Our cafe staff, including my wonderful business partner Kerrie, was counting on me--I couldn't let them down.
A quick sniff of salt-sharp air told me that the tide was out. For a second, I let my mind wander away to the beach that skirted our little town, picturing the washing waves and gray gulls dancing on the wind. Then I pulled my attention back to the task at hand.
The Northwest Electric office was right next door to the official entrance to the town square, an arch that read A HAPPY DOG BRINGS GRACE TO THE WORLD. Bright yellow posters covered the arch, advertising our big festival, Woofinstock, which started the next day.
I burst in through the Northwest Electric office's double doors, panting from the weather, and shook off my raincoat so I wouldn't drip on anyone's paperwork. The lobby was ringed with cubicles and office doors, and the wall outside each one boasted one of the yellow posters, showing a grinning dog and the words "Woofinstock! A full weekend of fun, celebrating dogs in all shapes and sizes. Proudly sponsored by the town of Madrona, Washington, a wonderland for dogs." Woofinstock always fell on the first weekend in September--it was a tradition you could bank on.
I took a deep breath and headed up to the counter. A woman in her fifties with short blond hair and a nametag that read MARGUERITE stood on the other side, snapping her gum. A dolphin tattoo peeked out above her shirt's neckline.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Yes, please," I said, realizing I had no idea what I was going to say. "I'm one of the owners of the Glimmerglass Caf? over on the square. We've been late with our bill.... I'm really, really sorry about that. But our lights just went out, and if we can't stay open for Woofinstock, we'll never make enough to get on our feet again. I'm uh--" I bit my lip. "I guess I'm here to beg."
Marguerite nodded, snapped her gum again, and turned to her computer, typing in our information. I hated to stare at her while she worked, so I looked down instead at the Woofinstock flyers lying on the counter. My stomach clenched as I scanned the familiar list of activities that made up the weekend: the Pet-and-Person Beauty Contest, the Agility Contest, the 5K Run, the Obedience Trials, Microchipping, the 2-Mile Walk, and the Closing Ceremonies on the green. Throughout it all, restaurants like mine were allowed to run a booth where we handed out coupons and free samples, and sold our signature espressos. If we didn't have electricity in the caf?, all that promotion would be pointless.
Marguerite looked up from her screen. "The Glimmerglass Caf?? You owe two hundred forty-nine dollars and thirty-six cents. Obviously we can't turn your power back on until you pay that."
I pulled out my personal checkbook and started writing. "Once this is paid, how long will it take to get the power back on?"
Marguerite shrugged. "Should be on by tomorrow afternoon at the latest."
My mouth went dry. "Tomorrow afternoon? But tomorrow is the first day of Woofinstock--do you know how much business we'll lose if we aren't open first thing in the morning?"
Another shrug. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
"Please. Is there anything you can do to speed things up? I know we were late. I know we're the ones to blame. But our caf?'s really in crisis here--if we don't do well this weekend, we're going to have to close. Please, is there any way you can help?"
Marguerite glanced at the computer screen, then down at my check. "Jessica Sheldon, that's you?"
"That's me." I held my breath. I could almost hear her mind clicking back over past articles in the Madrona Advocate, remembering where she'd heard my name. "Aren't you that dog hater?" She looked up at me, right into my eyes. "Yeah, the Glimmerglass Caf?--that was you who screamed at those little dogs, wasn't it?"
I swallowed hard, a difficult thing to do in the face of her obvious disgust. "Yes," I said quietly. "That was me." As I lowered my gaze, I spotted a magnetized photo of two miniature Chihuahuas, stuck to Marguerite's monitor. My heart sank. I waited for her to yell at me, or at least launch into a forty-five-minute lecture. Instead, she narrowed her eyes.
"What really happened? I mean, you don't really hate dogs, do you?"
I shook my head, sure she wouldn't believe me. It was hard to explain exactly what had occurred. My dog disaster had happened in the middle of last year's Woofinstock, when we were up to our eyeballs in customers. Kerrie was acting as hostess, shuffling customers around like a dealer in Vegas. Our servers dashed from the kitchen to the dining room, scarcely pausing to look before they rammed through the swinging doors. I flew from one emergency to the next. Seconds after I plugged up the spewing espresso machine, a kid vomited on table six, and two servers collided, spilling tomato basil soup and crab dip all over the diners at table eleven.
Just then, a fresh ruckus drew all eyes to the front door. An older woman in a pink hat had entered with four Pomeranians and a Great Dane, all on leashes.
Generally, the Glimmerglass's policy on dogs was the same as all the Madrona restaurants. If the place was quiet and no one seemed to mind, we let well-mannered dogs come in, despite what the health codes said and the amount that they terrified me. However, if we were crowded, all dogs waited outside, no matter how delightful their manners.
I was already on edge, so I was on my way to ask her to move the dogs outside, when the woman lost hold of all five leashes. The dogs sped off like they were part of a jailbreak. One shoved its nose in a lady's lap at table nine. Another raced into the crowd and disappeared. Instantly, I imagined the worst. Carnage. Violence. Brutality. Children missing fingers and customers with flesh torn from their legs.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Great Dane with its paws on top of a table, licking soup out of a little kid's bowl, while the child shrieked with laughter. One of the Pomeranians dashed past me with a dinner roll in its mouth, and I lunged after it but missed badly--I was too frightened to really try to catch it. Seconds later, I jumped about a foot in the air. Something was licking my ankle!
Around me, the room spun in a kaleidoscope of faces, some laughing, some staring. One woman had a Pomeranian in her lap, and I lunged for it, hoping to knock the little dog away so the woman would be safe. It was clearly about to go for the jugular. Before I could reach her, the Great Dane came loping toward me, drool hanging from its snout in long cords. The drool of a man-eater.
I screamed. It was one of those horror-movie screams, the kind that ripples with terror. Everyone in the caf? could hear me, but it didn't matter. Even if I'd tried, I couldn't have stopped myself. "Get away from me!" I bellowed. "Get away, you vicious, evil beasts! I hate you! Hate you!"
Right then, a flash went off in my face. When the spots cleared from my vision, I blinked and found myself face-to-face with the Madrona Advocate's newest reporter.
The following morning, I opened the paper and saw my worst fears realized in newsprint. The photo showed me at my most hideous--dark hair frizzed around my head like raised hackles, mouth twisted midshout. I had a spoon in my hand that I was aiming at the Great Dane like a sword. Underneath the photo ran this caption: Glimmerglass owner Jessica Sheldon berates visiting dogs in her restaurant. The dogs are owned by Mary Beth Osterhoudt, owner of Oster Organic Dog and Cat Foods, Woofinstock's premier sponsor. Mrs. Osterhoudt says she is now unlikely to continue her support of Madrona's showcase event--support that has amounted to over $10,000 annually.
It was one of the worst moments of my life.
I knew immediately that it was all my fault. As Kerrie put it, the dogs were just being dogs. And I was being crazy. I was the one who'd caused all the trouble. It was me--my paranoia, my paralyzing fear of dogs--that had caused the disaster.
The last thing I'd wanted to do was put the town in jeopardy, but of course all of Madrona detested me for the lost support. The caf?'s phone reservation line stopped ringing. People pulled their dogs away when they saw me coming down the street. The shopkeepers worried about their businesses, the city council worried about our reputation, and Kerrie and I worried that the Glimmerglass would have to close. That saying about there being no such thing as bad publicity? Not true.
I couldn't bear the thought of losing the caf?--it was the one place I had that felt like home. It killed me that I'd been the one to put all that in danger. Thankfully, Kerrie sat me down with a cup of tea and helped me make a repair plan--a plan that I flung myself into.
I went before the city council and apologized. For a week, I stood next to the statue of Spitz, our town hero, and handed out free dog cookies. Spitz was a Doberman who saved two Madrona children from drowning twenty years ago. When he died, the city council commissioned a bronze likeness of him and matching doghouse that they placed in the center of the cobblestoned square. It was a town gathering point, the perfect place to do penance.
As my final act of contrition, I volunteered to head up the business owners' committee for Woofinstock, a job that required me to tromp around town asking my fellow entrepreneurs for sponsorships and donations. I would also have to make a speech at the big closing ceremonies.
Woofinstock weekend was going to be torture, and I frankly had no idea how I was going to pull it off without cloning myself. Aside from the speech, I was in charge of the Glimmerglass's espresso stand on the green. And I intended to hand out coupons and menus at every Woofinstock event I could get to. As Kerrie put it, my job was to "go out there and bring us back some business." But without electricity, there was no business to be had. And, even if Marguerite could help me, I was still petrified of dogs--and I was about to spend a weekend surrounded by them.
* * *
"But I don't hate dogs," I told Marguerite. "I really, really don't. I'm just scared of them. They're so unpredictable--and I get so nervous around them. When those little dogs swarmed me, I just ... I guess I freaked out."
Marguerite was quiet for a long moment. Then she said, "Do you like living here?"
That caught me off guard. "Sure. Of course I do."
"Then you're going to have to get over this dog phobia. Starting today. If you can't do that, then you should seriously think about moving away. You'd do just fine anywhere else in Kittias County--you just don't seem like a fit here."
I laid my hands flat on the counter, waiting for my heart to stop pounding. I loved Madrona. I could spend hours watching the gulls ride on the wind and the sailboats that filled the water with their sails on race days. This was where my best friend Kerrie was. The Glimmerglass, the caf? we'd built together four years ago, belonged in this town. Kerrie and the caf? had always been there for me--that was why it was so important that I get the lights turned back on, so we could give our business one last chance.
Besides, Madrona was a pretty little town, filled with lacy vine maples and old brick buildings. Six years ago, when I was twenty-two and fresh out of the University of Washington, I visited a friend here and fell in love with the place. When the rhododendrons bloomed in the spring, it was as if a rainbow ran through town. Madrona had exactly the small, homey feel I'd always longed for. I didn't want to move away.
But I couldn't deny the truth in what Marguerite said. Madrona was dog crazy, and I was dog phobic. The rest of Kittias County thought Madrona was off its rocker, even though our little town did really well with events like Woofinstock. When Madrona voted to let dogs enter into its shops and businesses, the county's animal control team went berserk, but there was nothing they could do. Madrona had chosen its identity, and it definitely had a wet nose.
"I love it here," I said softly. "I don't want to leave."
Marguerite folded her arms in front of her chest. "The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. You have to work on this. If you ignore it, your life will get smaller and smaller and smaller. Fear is like that. It will kill your life."
I'm hiding in the doghouse that belongs to the shiny dog, keeping my ears low. I've run everywhere today, but now I'm tired and hungry. So I'm taking a nap. Only things keep waking me up. First it was a cloud of leaves shaking on a tree, then it was a flower rolling across the ground in front of me. Then I thought I saw a dog! But it turned into an umbrella.
It's raining, and I like rain but people don't. A woman in clicking heels walks past me, hiding inside her coat. I stick my nose farther out the doghouse door and sniff, sniff, sniff as hard as I can. She smells friendly. Like a warm house. And she looks nice, though she's moving fast. But I'm faster. I slink out of the doghouse and trail behind her. Maybe she'll help me get home. Or feed me. Or dry me with a big fluffy towel.
She's heading toward a door, which makes me excited. I love doors! I hope she'll let me go inside with her. My parents might be behind that door. They like being inside. I like it in and out--both places.
We're almost to the door, her in front and me in back, when a big flash stings my eyes. I spin around, tuck my tail between my legs, and race back to the shiny doghouse.
I walked back across the square, my head hung low. The rain fell steadily, and I huddled inside my hood. How was I going to tell Kerrie the power might be off all day?
I was almost to the caf? when a searing flash blanketed the sky. The stormy grays around me blanched into overexposed pastels. I reeled as if someone had taken a flash picture right in front of my face. At almost the exact same time, thunder boomed, boxing my ears.
I ran without hearing or seeing. By sheer instinct, I raced straight to the caf? door. I wrenched it open and squeezed inside, panting hard.
Goose bumps covered my skin. I pressed my back to the door, then cautiously turned my head and looked back outside. The square was dark--strangely so for a late summer morning. There was no sign of lightning.
I turned back around to the dark caf? and felt my heart sink. It was 8:20 in the morning and our lights were off--a caf? owner's worst nightmare. Someone had turned the sign on the front door to CLOSED. We usually had a nice morning coffee rush at about this time, but not today. We couldn't do much without electricity.
With a heavy sigh, I let the hush of the room pass through me, glad to see that at least the place was spotlessly clean. These sixteen hundred square feet felt more like home than my apartment. The caf? was split into two halves, divided by the front door and hostess station. To the left was the dining room, where fifteen oak tables sat empty, waiting for a rush that wasn't going to come. To the right, the espresso counter and pastry case held the cheaper, faster items that had been our best sellers lately. Except today, when even that was closed.
I shook myself out of my reverie and went in search of Kerrie, making a detour to the bathroom to splash some water on my face. Someone had lit candles in all the back rooms, and the light of one glowed from under the door. As I entered, I heard Naomi, our sous chef, talking on her cell phone. "Yeah, I don't know," she was saying. "It's sinking fast, that's for sure. They couldn't even pay the electric bill. The smart thing would be to look for another job now, while I still can..."
She stopped midsentence when she saw me. "Uh, gotta go," she said, clicking her phone shut. We looked at each other, both feeling awkward.
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. I longed to reassure her, to tell her she was wrong, that the Glimmerglass was going to be around for the next hundred years and she'd always have a stable paycheck. But what could I say that was true? I didn't want to lie. It killed me to see my own employees worry like this. Naomi had two kids. She had rent to pay. School lunches to buy.
"I'm sorry, Naomi," I said, knowing my voice sounded rough with emotion. A sick feeling swam in my stomach. "I'm so sorry. We're doing the best we can, but it doesn't look too good. If the power comes back and we can have a good Woofinstock, then it just might work out." I smiled, knowing how pie-in-the-sky this sounded. Was it unfair to keep her here, working on this sinking ship, when she could be investing her time and energy in something new? We'd already expanded her job. With the dining room so quiet, Kerrie had her doing all the baking for the pastry case. It saved us money on our baked good orders, but baking wasn't the job Naomi had been hired to do. "We'll do everything we can to keep the place open. I don't want you to lose your job."
Naomi put a hand on my arm. "Gosh, Jess, I know all that. You know I'd rather work for you and Kerrie than anyone else in the world. I'm just trying to be practical, that's all. You know, for my kids. You guys are the best bosses ever." She gave me a hug.
When I pulled back, my eyes were wet. "We'll get through this," I said, praying that it would be true. "Thanks for sticking with us."
"Absolutely," she said with a we're-pals-again twinkle in her eye. "And don't worry, Jess. I'm sure we'll get this all fixed in time for Hot Max to come in."
I blushed. Hot Max, our unbelievably gorgeous customer, came through the espresso line every morning at nine. He brightened my day like a supernova--if the lights didn't come back on and I couldn't see him, this day was going to be one big pile of misery. I glanced at my watch. Just half an hour to go.
Ah, Max. To begin with, Max had cheekbones that belonged on a Native American prince. I had secret fantasies about kissing one of those cheeks (which I imagined would be cool from the wind), then traveling down to his mouth, neck, and places beyond. Just thinking about it made my toes curl.
There was more to Max than just cheekbones, of course. He was tall--often the tallest customer in the caf?--and he had jet-black hair and sideburns that he always kept neatly trimmed. And dark eyes that you could fall all the way into if you weren't careful.
Naomi and I left the bathroom together and ran into Kerrie, who was coming down the hall, candle in hand. My partner had real talent with food, but what struck people first was her sense of style. Kerrie was in her midforties, with blond hair cut in a sharp wedge, and she owned about fifty different pairs of glasses, each more dramatic than the last. Today her glasses were thick-rimmed and green to match her malachite earrings. She took a look at our faces and said, "Hey, no moping, you guys. Not without me, anyway. It's way too dark for that."
At that very second, the lights flared on. We all blinked in the onslaught of brightness.
"Hey, lights!" Kerrie beamed at me. "Good work, Jess--you did it! We'll be serving today after all."
"Hooray, hooray!" I sang, making a mental note to send Marguerite a free latte card in thanks. I scurried to the front of the house, anxious to flip over the CLOSED sign and get the caf? revved up again. Sahara, our barista, appeared at my elbow, ready to start brewing and steaming. In the kitchen, I knew Naomi and Kerrie were popping croissants and turnovers into the oven. Gradually people trickled in, and I began to breathe again. Selling coffees and lattes would never keep us in business, but in our position, every little bit helped.
It was 9:35 when Max came in. Usually, I spent the whole morning watching for him, but today I was so busy he surprised me, bursting through the front door right after Sahara left to help Kerrie in the storeroom. I generally liked to see him coming so I could check my hair and get myself into a good position, engaged in a task that would let me watch him come in without being noticed. Steaming milk was perfect. So was wiping tables. I could observe him, flicking my gaze up and down, catching little glimpses of those cheekbones before turning back to the safety of the steamer or the tabletop. Once he reached the counter, I kept my eyes down the rest of the time he was in the caf?. I couldn't make eye contact with him. Ooh, good heavens no.
It's not that I was a chicken or scared of men or anything like that. With other guys I could flirt and chat, no problem. It's just that, with Max, there were special circumstances. Very special circumstances. Max was not only the town hottie--he was also the town veterinarian. And since I was Madrona's resident dog hater, that made me public enemy number one where he was concerned.
When he walked in, I was all alone, and I felt myself turning pink before he even reached the counter. In a panic, I checked my hair in the stainless steel side of the espresso machine, but all I could see was a steaming blur. Max wore a dripping green raincoat over his red-and-white Manchester United jersey, and as he pushed his hood back, I saw that his black hair was still damp from the shower. Or the rain. No, definitely the shower.
He usually spent some time looking over the pastry case before placing his order, but today he walked straight up to the counter. I glanced around, half wishing Sahara would materialize and take Max's order for me, but she was nowhere. I was in this alone. With very damp palms.
"Hi," he said. His smile made his cheekbones pop and his eyes glow. My insides fluttered. "I'm not sure we've met. I'm Max Nakamura."
Obviously, I knew that already. "Hi," I said, working hard to regulate my voice so it wouldn't squeak. "I'm Jessica. Jessica Sheldon." I mumbled my last name, but by the way he nodded, I was pretty sure he caught it. His eyes lingered on my face, making me blush.
"You're one of the owners here, aren't you?"
I nodded, feeling the blush creep down my neck. If he knew that, then surely he knew all about my infamous dog incident. Everyone did. Was he introducing himself to me because I was the enemy? A sick feeling coiled in my stomach as I concluded that he already knew all about me--he must. This was our first conversation, if you could call it that, and he already hated me. Better to serve him his double-shot Americano now, regular sized but in a large to-go cup, and be done with it.
"I'll take a double-shot Americano," he said. "Regular sized, but in a big cup."
I smiled weakly. As I busied myself near the espresso machine, I hoped the steam would explain away the redness of my face. "I like this place," he said.
I jerked my head up. Wait, was he making conversation? With me? He, the town's best-loved veterinarian, making small talk with a woman of my reputation? Well, I thought. Maybe he doesn't know after all. In which case, I should really say something in return. For goodness sake, don't say anything about dogs!
"Thanks," I said, grateful for his compliment of the caf?. "The Sounders are sure doing well this year," I said. Under the counter, I kicked myself. Lame, lame!
Max's eyes brightened. "Do you follow soccer?"
"Um, not really." That's why it was such a lame thing to say. I knew how he felt about soccer, but that was no reason to jump into a topic of which I was utterly ignorant. "I saw your jersey and thought you might be a fan. I ... uh ... I don't know anything about soccer."
"Oh," he said, taking his steaming large cup from my hands. His index finger brushed my pinky--his skin was surprisingly warm. He smiled again, but he clearly had nothing to say about my sports ignorance. He hoisted his cup toward me in a good-bye salute. "Thanks."
Thus ended our first, and probably last, exchange of syllables. Way to go, Jess. Way to go.
As he turned away, I looked at the golden skin on the back of his neck and saw a few droplets of water fall from his wet hair onto his collar. Oh, Hot Max. What would you think if you knew how much Madrona's number-one dog hater wanted to kiss that neck?
I watched him walk out the door, pulling his hood back over his head, and felt my heart drop into my shoes. Just outside, he bumped into Leisl Adler, the owner of the competing caf? across the square, and my heart shot all the way to the floor. After my dog-hating incident, Leisl had been the first one to stomp into the Glimmerglass and accuse me of ruining Woofinstock forever. I was pretty sure she hated me.
As Leisl stopped to talk to Max, I saw her gesture to the caf?, her face dark. I turned away and pretended to clean the espresso machine, my eyes stinging. It was done now. Over. Kaput. Leisl would tell him everything, the whole ugly truth, and then Max would never speak to me again.