She stood there so long that it must have started to look suspicious, and she jumped when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Behind her, there was an airport security guard, and he looked concerned. "Everything all right, ma'am?" he asked. "You need help with something?"
Goldie blinked. Did she need help? She didn't even know where to begin. For starters, she was in 'Wisconsin', which was an entire solar system away from Los Angeles, where she'd spent nearly her entire life. And then there was the small matter of that life, the one she'd left behind, which was currently in total shambles.
Because why else would anyone come to Wisconsin on purpose? Clearly, she was having a complete and total breakdown, and she doubted very much that the pubescent security guard could help her with that.
The security guard cleared his throat. "Are you all right? Can I call someone for you?"
"Oh," Goldie replied, shaking her head. "No, no, I'm fine." "Are you sure?" He didn't look convinced. "That your pet taxi there on the belt?"
Goldie turned her attention toward the cat. "Uh, well..."
"I swear to Father Christmas, if that's another abandoned animal, I'll lose my crackers," the guard said. "That's the third one this month."
Goldie tried not to laugh. So far, she hadn't heard a single curse word uttered since landing in the Midwest. She wondered if the people here were physically incapable of using bad language. As she'd been exiting the plane, she'd heard the flight attendant mutter "cheese and rice" under her breath when the businessman who'd been flying next to Goldie in coach asked the flight attendant for her number.
When the security guard reached out to grab the pet carrier, Goldie stopped him. "No," she said. "No, it's my cat. I'm sorry. I'm just tired. It's been a long day."
"Cat?" The guard bent down and peered inside the carrier.
"It's one of them hairless cats? Lady, you need to get that cat a sweater. Do you know how cold it's about to get here in the city?" Goldie hid her surprise at finding out that this was a hairless cat—a Sphynx cat to be exact—and said, "Well, I guess it's lucky
I'm not staying in the city."
"Oh yeah?" the security guard asked. "Where you headed?" "Uh, Blue Dog Valley?" Goldie replied, annoyed that her response came out as more of a question. "Have you heard of it?" The guard lifted up his stocking cap to scratch his head, looked
Goldie up and down, and then said, "In that case, I think you're both gonna need to be wearing more than a sweater."
Blue Dog Valley, Wisconsin, had not been in Goldie's five-, ten-, or even fifteen-year plan. At no point when she was growing up in suburban Los Angeles or attending the University of Southern California or, later, veterinary school at UC Davis, did Goldie envision herself as a forty-year-old West Coast transplant in the Midwest.
In fact, if anyone had told her even a month ago that she would be holding an abandoned cat carrier and standing at the entrance of the Milwaukee International Airport waiting for a ride from some farmer in a red pickup truck, she would have laughed.
But right now Goldie wasn't laughing. She was shivering in the jacket she'd thought would be warm enough and cursing herself for making rash decisions like buying a crumbling veterinary clinic, sight unseen, after a night of one too many bottles of wine.
"You should have left him a long time ago," Goldie's best friend, Alex, had said to her when Goldie showed up at her apartment in tears, mascara streaming down her face, holding the broken heel of her favorite pair of pumps. "I mean, like ten years ago."
"He gave me my first job out of veterinary school," Goldie replied, pushing past her friend and flailing onto Alex's couch. "I was grateful."
"So you repaid him by wasting a whole decade on his narcissistic ass?" Alex replied. "That hardly seems fair."
"I wasted a decade on him because I loved him," Goldie said, trying her best not to wail. Alex hated when she wailed. "The job was just a perk."
"Yeah, for him," Alex said. She sat down beside Goldie. "You deserve better."
Goldie rested her head on Alex's shoulder. "I know," she replied. "I know, but I just kept thinking it would all work out."
"That's always been your problem," Alex reminded her. "You're way too optimistic for L.A."