Cherie popped her head up from behind the divider, one eyebrow cocked like only she could achieve.
"You're salivating," she declared to Antonia, who was swivelling in her receptionist's chair, biting her lip. "Jesus. He calls you every five minutes. He's such a wanker," she complained, disappearing briefly, then emerging at Antonia's desk. Her phone kept ringing. Antonia kept swivelling to stop herself picking up.
"Shit. Ivan's here." Cherie skulked back to her desk in a cloud of cheap perfume.
"Morning Pavlov," Antonia mouthed, as she picked up the receiver and hung up on Buddy. Ivan surveyed the waiting room.
"Antonia. Can you please ring Mrs Skovrin about her border collie? She can collect him tomorrow," Ivan instructed through his beard. Without waiting for her reply, he strode past her in his lab coat.
"Pssst...Cherie!" Antonia knocked on the metal edge of the divider, causing it to move on its wheels. A drawing pin loosened, sending a flyer to the ground. Antonia's magenta nails clicked as she picked it up:
Ask about our dog grooming services.
A clean pooch is a happy pooch.
There was no answer from Cherie, but just as Antonia went to stand up, the phone rang again. She lurched across the desk in one movement.
"Pavlov's Dog Clinic, Antonia speaking, how may I help you?" she asked, straightening her back. She crossed her ankles, pencil at the ready. When she heard the sound of Buddy's drawl on the end of the line, she gulped.
"Why won't you take my calls? You avoiding me or something?" "Oh Hi Buddy. How are you doing?" She covered the phone and steadied her breathing. Cherie's ears pricked up.
"You coming to the Thrash Puppies gig on Friday? I'll look like a loser without a plus one," he reminded her.
"Yeah." Antonia looked up to see a woman struggling with the glass door, a wriggling jack russell in her arms.
"Well I got a free ticket...Friday yeah?" Antonia dropped the receiver and quickly went to help the woman.
"Hello? Bitch." A dial tone clicked.
* * *
The next morning, Cherie was sitting behind reception when Antonia arrived, reading a book.
"What are you doing?" Antonia plonked her purse on the filing cabinet and pulled out her supplies: chapstick, pain killers, chewing gum, cigarettes, packets of sweetener and a copy of Women's Weekly.
"Guess what?" Cherie got up, hugging the book to her chest: Psychology for Dummies.
"Can you move out of my way? Thanks." Antonia arranged her supplies artfully in her top drawer. The phone rang and her whole body jolted.
"Good morning, Pavlov's Dog Clinic, Antonia speaking. How can I help you?" her voice sounded husky and she cleared her throat.
"We are a vetinary clinic. No...I'm sorry. You must have the wrong number," Antonia tried to keep her voice calm. She rolled her eyes to Cherie, who was waiting to tell her about the book. When she put down the phone, Cherie shoved it under her nose.
"Look! Pavlov. Did you know about this?" Cherie stared at the picture.
"He even has a beard. Check it out!" she laughed.
"Oh my God. Do you think they are related? Where did you find this?" Antonia looked at her friend.
"On Ivan's desk," she said raising her right eyebrow. She pulled Antonia behind the divider and in a conspiratory whisper, she said "I think he's experimenting on dogs," she told her.
"What? Like vivisection and shit?" Antonia felt sick to her stomach. She looked at her friend in horror.
"Nah. In the book it's called classic conditioning. A bell rings or something and then the dog acts. If you ring the bell you can make him do stuff. Like when the phone rings. Look, I have an idea how we can stop you falling for that jerk Buddy. I'll tell you at smoko."
* * *
The next morning, Ivan was sitting at reception when Buddy loped in, his hair matted and tangled.
"Hi. Is Antonia here?" he scratched his shoulder and tucked his Thrash Puppies t-shirt into his jeans.
"That depends who's asking," the old man stood up and stroked his beard.
"Buddy. Her boyfriend." He shifted uncomfortably, his thumbs in his belt loops. Ivan coughed. Then, without warning he starting laughing.
"What's so funny?" Buddy screwed up his nose.
"So you're the reason my receptionist refuses to answer the phone? Buddy. Buddy." he laughed again. This time his whole body shook.
"Buddy. Let me tell you something. Antonia has been my receptionist for five years. She is hard working, diligent and full of promise. She won't be seeing you today. He handed Buddy a flyer sitting on the desk and manouvered him to the door, watching him slink off with his tail between his legs.