“Seriously?” Agnes stared at Amethyst, her mouth hung open as she took the leash in her hands.
“Yes, Agnes.” Amethyst exaggerated her nod, trying to get Agnes to pick up on her cue. “Mrs. Simmons would like you to take Victoria on a walk around the block while she has her tea-leaf reading.
“No buts,” Amethyst interrupted.
“Is there are problem, dear.” Mrs. Simmons hobbled over to the two girls.
Agnes couldn’t stop staring at Mrs. Simmons. 105-years-old, as far as Agnes was concerned, Mrs. Simmons made regular visits to the Mother, Earth, and Moon Boutique. And every time, Mrs. Simmons arrived with a different hair color. Last month her hair was blue. The month before that it was pink. Today, her hair was shamrock green. Coupled with her visit to a tanning salon, Agnes thought Mrs. Simmons resembled a shriveled Oompa Loompa.
“No, not at all.” Amethyst reassured Mrs. Simmons by patting her on the shoulder. “Right, Agnes?”
Agnes shrugged her shoulders. “Right. I was just wondering how long a walk I should take with….your dog.” She stared down at the ground where the leash touched the floor.
“Not too far, dear.” Agnes saw bright red lipstick on Mrs. Simmons’s teeth. “Just around the block. Oh, and do mind her front left paw, Victoria tripped on the stairs last week and she seems a little sore.”
Amethyst directed Mrs. Simmons toward the reading room. “Got that?”
“There’s no dog!” Agnes mouthed the words.
“I know! Just do it!” Amethyst mouthed back. “Right this way, Mrs. Simmons. Your tea-leaf reading awaits.”
Agnes shook her head and dragged the leash behind her. The bell on the door jingled as she stepped outside. She held her free hand over her eyes, trying to shield them from the bright sunlight.
“How in the heck did I get here? I’m a future physicist. I shouldn’t be walking imaginary dogs around the block.”
“What are you complaining about?”
Agnes jumped. She grabbed her chest and turned to see her employer, Celeste, standing behind her. Agnes thought Celeste was pretty but dressed like a hippie. She always wore a peasant top paired with a flowing skirt and the belts she wore all had jingly things on them.
Celeste stared at the lease in Agnes’s hand. “Oh. Mrs. Simmons sent you and Victoria for a walk.” She smiled and inhaled. “At least it’s a beautiful day out. There was one day Mrs. Simmons sent Amethyst out in a blizzard with Victoria.”
“Doesn’t she know the dog is dead? I mean….can’t we tell her…or something?”
“Baby-doll,” Celeste began, “Pretending she’s alive makes Mrs. Simmons happy. Please, humor her.”
“If you say so.” Agnes sighed and walked down the sidewalk, dragging the leash behind her.
She returned to the boutique twenty minutes later and walked behind the counter. Celeste was placing some merchandise in a bag and handed it to her customer.
“How’d it go?”
Agnes wound the leash up, holding it so the collar – still fastened – was the only part suspended in the air. “She was very well-behaved.”
“Victoria!” Mrs. Simmons screamed as she hobbled away from the reading room.
Agnes’s eyes were wide. She had no idea what the concern was.
“Look what you’re doing?” Mrs. Simmons was breathing rapidly. She wheezed as she approached the register. “You’re choking her! You’re choking her! She’s choking!”
Agnes looked at the leash. “No! No! She’s fine! It’s just a leash.”
Celeste bent down and stood back up, her arms cradled. “Victoria is right here.” She walked around the register. “We took her off the leash for a little bit. See?”
Mrs. Simmons’s alarmed eyes relaxed. She removed the dog from Celeste’s arms and took the leash from Agnes. “Be more careful. Victoria is an old girl and can’t be jostled about.”
“Duly noted.” Agnes nodded.
Mrs. Simmons hobbled out. Agnes took a deep breath, glad the encounter was over.