Worrying about Trent hadn’t really given me time to work out a viable plan, and in truth, I never expected Cole to listen to me. Ideas had been flitting in and out of my subconscious ever since I learned about the kidnapping, though, and since he was being so decent, I thought he deserved the truth.
“Honestly, Cole, I haven’t worked it out in my head yet, but I have some ideas. I’d like to run them by you when they become clearer.”
He nodded. “That sounds good, Sloan. Would you mind asking the people at the info desk if there’s a pet relief area at O’Hare? Freddie’s okay for now, but he’ll need to go when we get to Chicago. He’s not a pup anymore and can’t hold his bladder like he used to.”
Freddie lifted his head and rewarded us with a soft woof when he heard his name. His tail wagged back and forth like a metronome. “Did you hear him, buddy? Your daddy just called you an old man.”
Freddie slobbered all over my hand, blissfully unaware that he was fast approaching his ninth birthday. He’d had a long and useful run as Cole’s guide dog, but he’d have to be retired soon, spending the rest of his days playing with the twins or sleeping in the sun. A younger dog was needed to keep up with the grueling task of being Cole’s eyes and ears. This was a conversation neither Cole nor I could deal with right now. Training a new service dog was a long and tedious business, and Cole would need a clear mind and some time off to find the right pup. It was almost as hard as finding the perfect husband. I ruffled Freddie’s fur and bent down to give him a hug. He was the one constant in our long and convoluted relationship, and Cole knew I loved his dog as fiercely as he did. I stood, welcoming the chance to walk around a bit. “I’ll be back in a sec,” I said, heading toward the airline counter.
It turned out there were two pet relief areas at O’Hare airport, aside from the one at the airport Hilton Hotel I was familiar with. One outside Terminal 1, and one at Terminal 5 where we were taking off. They were both on the lower level near the baggage claim areas, which meant I’d have to exit security, but it would be worth it. Freddie could do his business before the long ass flight to Tokyo without a problem.
“Would you make sure we have some sort of transport between concourses when we land? I have a service dog that’ll need to pee, and his blind master could really use the extra help finding his way while I’m occupied with the dog.”
“We’ll have everything ready when you arrive.”
“I’d like a golf cart, if that’s available. Professor Fujiwara won’t use a wheelchair.” Hell, I’d be lucky if Cole used anything at all. He hated calling attention to his disability, but sometimes it was inevitable.
“The cart and attendant will be at the gate when you land. They can drop you and the dog off at the baggage claim exit before they head over to the Admirals Club with the Professor.”
I looked over at Cole and Freddie and recognized how easily I’d slipped back into my role as caretaker. I’d done it for five years before our breakup, and I suppose it was like any other learned skill. You didn’t forget; you only had to jog a few memories.
Cole had stubbornly tried to hide his impending blindness when we’d first met. It took a while for me to figure out what the hell was going on, but after I realized he was on the verge of losing his eyesight, I studied up on his disease, learned Braille, worked with his psychologist, John Butterman, and familiarized myself with every necessary way to make Cole’s life easier without treating him like an invalid. I’d walked around our apartment blindfolded, noting whenever I’d bump into something, to make sure the object in question was either repositioned or discarded. Everything was done behind Cole’s back so he wouldn’t feel diminished in any way. I’d made it my mission to treat him as normally as possible, and he appreciated my attitude without actually coming out and saying it. It galled him to ask for favors, but he’d become comfortable again with me by his side. We were falling back into our old routine, like this business of Freddie’s needs. Cole would have never allowed anyone else to make arrangements for his dog, but he was clearly comfortable having me do it.
“Everything is set,” I said when I sat down beside him.
“Thank you,” he replied, rewarding me with one of his rare smiles. The change in his appearance was dramatic. The stormy cloud that had hovered over him for so long moved away, brightening the landscape of his striking face. I hadn’t seen that smile in a long time, and it felt good to know I’d put it there.
When Cole asked me to go to Tokyo, I was sure we’d have some weird moments. We hadn’t been together as a couple in over three years, and a lot of horrid shit had gone down during that time. I’d been a little concerned that he’d dredge up the past or bicker over nonesense, but he’d either mellowed out, or I’d grown up, or both. In any case, it was a huge relief that it was easy between us, and I had no intention of rocking the boat by asking him what was different.