It was a dark and stormy night. No, it wasn't. Actually, it was an early fall afternoon and it was the day my life changed. The sun was shining and the leaves were just starting to turn. I really don't know how to begin this story. I can't really tell you about that day unless I give you a little background first. Maybe I should just start out with Once Upon a Time. Yeah, that's the ticket. Let me back up a bit and start over.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived alone in the country. In case you're wondering, that's me. At the beginning of my story, I had lived at this house for only a couple of months. It's peaceful and secluded with the nearest neighbor a quarter-mile away. I enjoyed the solitude. I'm not anti-social or anything, but too many people make me uncomfortable. Even at work, I sat at my desk in a typical cube farm, head down, pencil moving. I would chat a little with a few co-workers, but I had only been at this job for about six weeks.
Anyway, back to the story. On my day off, I decided to go into town and get my oil changed, pick up some groceries, and check out the local Wal-Mart. Hey, when you live in the middle of nowhere you take your excitement where you can get it. The Wal-Mart of a small town is the happening place.
After doing my running around, I decided to head home taking the back way, a winding country road with few houses and little traffic. Only the locals who have to use the road do so. It's so narrow that two cars passing is an intimate encounter. Deer seem to love to jump out in front of the occasional car or pickup truck just for the thrill of watching the driver slam into the too-close trees. I like taking this road because you have to go slow. It's the kind of road made for sightseeing and thinking. Since I drive the posted speed limit or below, the deer don't think of me as much of a challenge.
I was only a couple miles out of town when I saw something running like mad after a car ahead of me. It was too small for a deer and no self-respecting coyote would chase a car.
Oh, shit. It's a dog. I started braking while mentally cursing the ignorant redneck that decided dumping a dog along side the road was an acceptable method of animal control. The car rapidly outdistanced the pup and went out of sight around a curve. The pup spotted my car and ran in front of me. When she cut me off, I pulled over.
I got out of my car and started around the front. The pup came around the rear of the vehicle towards me. She was dirty, skinny, and looked like she was scared to death. Her short coat was light brown except for her muzzle, ears, and tail, which were black. A quick glance confirmed my guess at gender. Her head was down and tail tucked between her legs, so I didn't want to make any sudden moves in case she bolted. I crouched down to her level and she came up to me. Being the incredible sucker that I am, I picked her up. She must have weighed all of twenty pounds. Once I looked into those brown eyes, I knew I was sunk. I had a dog.
I climbed into the car and put the pup on the floor in front of the passenger seat. She didn't want to be that far from me and crawled towards me and under my feet. "Listen, girl, I can't drive if you're lying on the accelerator." She just looked up at me and dug her claws into the carpet. "Fine. Let's get you up here." So I drove home with a shivering puppy draped across my lap.
I decided it was just easier to carry her into the house. If I put her down, she might take off. Yeah, right. The pup was quickly turning into a living, breathing, four-legged fur coat. She had shed so much during the ride, it was hard to tell where dog ended and human began.
When we got into the kitchen, I set her on the floor. Opening the fridge, I pondered the possibilities. "Well, pup. We have lunchmeat and bread. Are you a mayo or a Miracle Whip kind of dog?" Boy, I crack myself up. Good thing, because the pup was not impressed. She settled for ham and bread, no condiments.
Once the belly was taken care of, it was time to get clean. I figured the bathtub would work since it was too cold to do this outside. Besides, I remember bathing the family dog when I was younger. It was a good bet I was going to get soaked. I turned up the thermostat so the furnace would kick on. Once the water temperature was adjusted properly, I put the pup in the tub. She just stood there, stiff as a board. She didn't fight or try to get away. As she warmed up, she relaxed and started looking around a bit. When we were through, she just as calmly let me towel her off.
I hadn't lived in this area very long, but I vaguely remembered seeing a sign for a vet's office in town. I grabbed the phone book, found the number, and called to see if they could squeeze us in. As luck would have it, they had just had a cancellation. I changed into dry clothes and picked up my dog. She rode into town draped over my lap.
We arrived at the vet's office a little early. Since this was a full-service veterinary establishment, there was a display of collars and leashes in the waiting room. I knew I couldn't keep carrying this puppy whenever we stepped outside, so I picked out an inexpensive nylon collar and leash. I slipped the collar on and she immediately crawled under my chair. No amount of coaxing was going to bring her out. The receptionist just watched us and laughed. "Maybe she doesn't like the color," she offered. I just shook my head and sat there looking at the tail end of my dog sticking out from under the chair.
It wasn't long before we were called in. I picked up the chair and moved it out of the way so I could grab the pup. Once we were in the examination room, the vet poked and prodded and gave the pup a couple of shots. Other than being starved, the vet said she was in good health and was probably four months old. The vet laughed when she looked at the pup's paws. All she would say was that the dog had some growing to do.
Well, it was too late now. We had broken bread and taken a bath together. I'm sure in some countries that would qualify as marriage. I stood there petting the pup while the vet was going over a few details. The pup was on her belly on the metal examination table. She just kept looking up at me with those liquid, dark brown eyes. Don't worry. I'll take care of you. I took her in, so she was my responsibility now.
After we set up the next appointment, we started trying to figure out the pup's breed. The vet thought she was a lab mix. One of the technicians thought she might have some Redbone Coonhound due to her coloring. The secretary said she had Shar-Pei in her because of her wrinkled forehead. I said she just worried a lot. When they asked me what breed I thought she was, I said, "Brown Dog."
We went home and got to know each other. Soon, I started teaching her some simple commands. She would respond to me just fine, but she was very shy with strangers.
One day the neighbor stopped by to drop off some mail that was placed in the wrong box. Brown Dog hid behind me while we were talking. She would peek out around my legs and then duck back. My neighbor laughed and said I should feel safe with such a protector. I didn't say anything to him and just petted Brown Dog.
I learned that Brown Dog did not like loud noises or raised voices. One day I grabbed a paper towel from the holder in the kitchen. I didn't realize a wasp had settled under the hanging sheet until the little demon stung me in the hand. I was jumping around the kitchen, yelling, and cussing at the top of my voice. Brown Dog thought I was mad at her and started slinking off to hide under the bed. I saw her before she slipped out of the room and immediately changed my tone. I started using a 'happy voice.'
"I'm not mad at you, Brown Dog. My hand feels like a hot poker was shoved through it. It's really okay." I was looking at my hand trying to see if the stinger was stuck in my slightly swollen palm. I gritted my teeth as I said, "That freaking little son of a pea picker won't sting anyone else. I'm not mad at you. You're a good girl." Brown Dog probably figured I was demented, but basically harmless. She just sat down and enjoyed the floorshow. I was glad she felt better. I wasn't too happy. Cursing in a happy voice is just not satisfying.
During this time, she just kept growing. I was letting out her adjustable collar every time I turned around. I realized she was getting bigger. I just didn't appreciate how big until the sandwich incident.
I made myself a couple of fish sandwiches one afternoon. I used the last two hamburger buns with the last two fish patties. I needed to get a book from the other room, so I pushed my plate back from the counter edge and left. I was only gone five seconds. When I got back, Brown Dog was standing on her hind legs, front paws on the counter, chowing down. One fish sandwich was completely gone and the other was on its way. I yelled at her and she dropped down and slunk into the bedroom to hide under the bed. I would have felt sorry for her, but she was licking her lips on the way. I had to settle for PB&J.
A few days later, the neighbor stopped by again with more misplaced mail. Brown Dog tried to hide behind me again, but she wasn't as successful as before. She just wasn't as invisible as she hoped. I decided it was time to try an obedience class. I thought it would be good for her. She could get used to other people and dogs and build some self-confidence. I called the vet to see if she knew of any local classes. The vet recommended Clare Simpson, a local woman who had worked with dogs for years. Currently, she was working at a professional obedience school in the next town. She also gave lessons in the evenings at her farm. When I called Clare, she said a class was starting soon and invited us to join.
The first afternoon of class found a group of six handlers and dogs wandering around a pasture waiting for the festivities to begin. I was doing my best to reassure Brown Dog. She was convinced these other dogs and people were up to no good. She was conveying this fact to me by plastering her body against my legs and not allowing me to move more than three inches at a time. If she didn't want me to move, she became a very effective, although fuzzy, barrier. At 65 pounds, Brown Dog had grown into those massive paws and fulfilled the vet's prediction.
As I was trying to reclaim some personal space, I looked up to see the last members of our class walk up to the gate. Remember I told you at the beginning that my life changed? Well, this is where it begins.
The sun was at her back. I could see the golden highlights in her hair. Her eyes were a rich, dark brown. She was petite and moved with a grace I did not expect. She didn't walk as much as she floated. She had this excited, happy expression on her face. She was the most beautiful Golden Retriever I had ever seen. Then I looked up at her handler. I'm sure I quit breathing at this point. She was stunning, with blonde wavy hair and a slender, athletic build. As she stood there, everyone else faded from my awareness. I was in the middle of a pasture and I felt like I was drowning. It had to be that breathing thing. I ducked my head and started sucking in air. I heard the lady greet the instructor and make her way over to our little group.
We all stood around in a ragged semi-circle as Clare introduced herself and told us a little about what we could expect. I tried to listen and nonchalantly glance around to get a look at the goddess, without being obvious. Then it was time for us to introduce ourselves. Mike, a young teenager, was there with his black lab Murphy. Petey, an overweight corgi, was dragging a little girl named Sue. Ben and Mary were a married couple with two beagles, Black and Decker. Lori, an older woman, had her poodle, Killer. I introduced Brown Dog and myself and waited for the goddess to speak.
"Hi, I'm Lindsay and this beautiful girl is Molly." Molly panted and looked up adoringly at Lindsay. She seemed to be enjoying the attention and the ear scratches. "We've been through Clare's classes before. Clare wanted you to see what was possible with a little time and effort."
"No one starts out with a perfectly trained dog," said Clare. "Golden Retrievers are known for their work in obedience. But they have to learn too. At one time, Lindsay and Molly were right where you are now. Let's get started."
We started out learning how to heel our dogs. We walked in a big circle going one direction, then reversing, and going back the way we came. We were learning how to communicate with and control our dogs. At least, that was the idea.
Brown Dog was extremely nervous. She kept looking over her shoulder and then whipping her head back to check out the dog in front of her. Since she was so worried about everyone else, she kept running into my knee. I was sure everyone was watching us and wondering if I beat her regularly or just on special occasions. I decided to move us outside of the circle. At least this way, we wouldn't be disrupting the class.
Once we had a little space, I started talking softly to Brown Dog. I just kept up a light conversation, repeating the commands, telling her she was doing a good job, and trying to get her to concentrate on me rather than the rest of the class. It was working, too. Soon she was looking at me and wagging her tail, just a bit. Brown Dog's tail is a great barometer for how she is feeling. The happier and more comfortable she is, the higher she carries her tail. When we started class, her tail was tucked between her legs. Getting a wag out of her now was an accomplishment.
We were still off to the side heeling in our own little circle when Brown Dog finally followed me through a sharp turn without bashing into my leg. I was on my knees praising her and scratching her ears when I heard, "That's a wrap, folks. Keep practicing and we'll meet again next week."
I was surprised that class was over so soon. I stood up and watched as our classmates drifted out of the pasture towards their cars talking and joking with each other. Even the dogs seemed to be conversing with the occasional bark and wagging tail. I looked down at Brown Dog as she slid behind me to hide. She did pretty well with the exercises, but I wasn't sure how she would continue to handle the stress of the other dogs and handlers.
I decided to talk to Clare. Maybe she could tell me if I should just hang it up and let Brown Dog just be her normal shy self. I didn't want to traumatize her more than she already was.
I waited for a chance to chat with Clare. She and Lindsay were talking and laughing and I didn't want to intrude. They acted like they were really close friends. Lindsay would say something and then touch Clare's arm as if to emphasize some point. Lindsay just looked so sure of herself. Molly was panting slightly and watching the conversation like she knew exactly what was being said. Every so often, Lindsay would reach down and scratch Molly's ears or pat her head. I didn't want to interrupt and had just decided to slip away when Clare looked at me and motioned me over.
Damn, I almost got out of here. I almost forgot why I wanted to talk to Clare. They were looking at me, waiting to hear something. "Umm, hi. I just wanted to say thanks. I'm not sure if Brown Dog is up to this class. She's really nervous with the other dogs and people and I was wondering if we should just drop out now." I was concentrating on Clare's face. I didn't want to asphyxiate by looking at Lindsay.
Clare frowned and looked at Brown Dog hiding behind me. "I really think this is the best thing for her," she said. "I'm sure she'll get better as time goes on and she gets use to everyone. One thing you could try is introducing her to more people."
I forced a little laugh. "Yeah, well, that's kind of hard since I don't get out much. I haven't been in the area that long."
Lindsay looked at me like she was going to ask a question. Oh, Lord, her eyes were green. I think she said something, but I completely lost track of her words. I desperately tried to drag my concentration back to the conversation. "I'm sorry. What were you saying?" She's going to think I'm a complete goober.
"I was going to suggest you go to the little park in town. There usually aren't a lot of people around. It will help Brown Dog get use to some distractions." She smiled and waited for my response.
Have you ever seen a sunbeam break through a cloudy sky? It's like a spotlight from heaven illuminating a small piece of the earth. That's what Lindsay's smile was like. Her eyes lit up and I swear she glowed. Where the heck did that come from? The sun had set already and I was seeing sunbeams and glowing. I gave myself a shake and yanked my wits back to the reality of here and now. "Umm, thanks. That sounds good. Should work just fine." I felt like the words were sticking in my throat. I started backing up. I know I was red-faced and I had already proven I wasn't capable of communicating in complete sentences. Then Lindsay touched my arm. I was so surprised, I stopped moving. Sunbeams sprang to mind again.
She obviously did not realize what affect she was having on me. "Early evening is the best time. Most of the kids are home having dinner." She took a step closer.
"Right. Early evening. Dinner time," I stammered.
I glanced at Clare. She was standing there with her arms crossed, watching the two of us with an interested look on her face.
"Well, uhh, thanks a lot. I have to get Brown Dog home. School night and all." I waved and hurried to my car. Brown Dog trotted right along with me. I thought about those green eyes all the way home.
A couple of days later, Brown Dog and I were outside when the garbage man stopped by to pick up our trash. Brown Dog took off at a dead run barking her head off. Fortunately or unfortunately, she was running away from him and towards me. She barked as she looked back over her shoulder. I decided I better try out Lindsay's suggestion. Brown Dog could not go through life scared of every little thing. I drove to the park with Brown Dog for a short training session. We started out doing the heeling exercises. Brown Dog had to follow my lead without forging ahead or lagging behind. She then had to sit when I stopped.
We were actually doing pretty well. Brown Dog wasn't too nervous because the closest people were at the far ball field. Since it was a good 30 yards away, she was happy. I was about ready to quit when I noticed a familiar duo enter the park. "Breathe, you idiot," I muttered to myself. Brown Dog looked up at me, trying to figure out this new command. Lindsay and Molly were making their way towards us. Lindsay was smiling and I swear Molly was too. Brown Dog only backed up half a step and leaned against my left leg. Maybe she remembered them from class and wasn't overly concerned.
As I watched her get closer, I felt myself break out in a sweat. I barely knew this woman, but as she drew near, I felt awkward and self-conscious. There was no way to politely run away, so I stood my ground and hoped I wouldn't do anything too stupid.
"Hi, nice night," Lindsay waved.
"Yeah, nice night." Nice going. Draw her in with your wit.
Lindsay seemed genuinely happy to see us as she came up. "How's it going?" She reached down and gently presented the back of her hand to Brown Dog. Once Brown Dog sniffed a bit, Lindsay scratched under Brown Dog's chin. Molly waited patiently for her turn to greet Brown Dog.
I was surprised that Brown Dog was taking the meeting so calmly. I looked up and realized Lindsay had spoken and was waiting for a response. "Oh, not bad. We were just finishing up and getting ready to head out." I glanced down and watched Molly sniffing Brown Dog's face. When I looked back at Lindsay, I thought I saw a flash of sadness. It had to be my silly imagination again. Why would a woman who had everything going for her, be upset that we were leaving?
As I was trying to subdue my imaginings, Lindsay's expression lightened and she asked, "Would you like to go for ice cream?" Molly looked up at Lindsay and barked. "It's one of Molly's favorite treats. She's been a good girl today so I was on my way over to the Dairy Queen."
"You give your dog ice cream?" I wondered how she held the cone. Lindsay, that is, not Molly.
"Yeah, I get her a little cup. I only do it once in a while, so it's not like she's going to get fat or anything."
"Oh, I didn't mean anything by it. I just hadn't thought of giving a dog ice cream before. I don't know if Brown Dog would even like it."
"Sure she will. Come on, it's only a couple blocks and we've already established that it's a nice night."
I couldn't come up with any reason to decline. To tell the truth, I really wanted to spend some time with Lindsay. Besides, a beautiful woman invited me to go get ice cream. I would be a fool to refuse. Of course, I realized she was just being nice to my dog and me, but I was afraid I would do or say something foolish or embarrassing. Against my better judgment, Brown Dog and I went to the Dairy Queen with Lindsay and Molly. I held the dogs' leads and waited at a picnic table at the rear of the parking lot. There was this big old tree that provided shade during the summer. Right now it provided a layer of leaves that I was brushing off the seats. Lindsay came back with a cardboard box with two cones and two small dishes of ice cream.
"How much do I owe you?" I asked.
Lindsay glanced over and gave me a little half smile. "Nothing. You can buy the next time."
Next time? There was going to be a next time? I thought she just said she and Molly didn't do this often. "Uh, thanks."
Lindsay sat down across from me and my train of thought derailed. I had to force myself not to stare while she ate her ice cream cone. Wow, it's getting warm out here.
Lindsay looked relaxed as she leaned forward with her elbows on the tabletop. "So, what do you think of class?"
"Black and Decker are cute, don't you think?"
"Yeah, very cute." I was racking my brain, trying to come up with something witty to say. Something worthwhile. Nothing. My mind was a blank. I looked down at my half-eaten cone.
Lindsay finished her cone. "I think Killer wants to nail Murphy."
"What?" I looked up, startled. The idea of the miniature poodle lusting after the lab was outrageous.
"Just wanted to see if you were paying attention." She glanced down at the dogs. "Look." She pointed to Brown Dog.
Brown Dog had decided that ice cream was a very good thing and was pushing the little cup around on the ground trying to get that last drop.
She looked back up at me. "How did you two get together?"
"She, um, cut me off in traffic."
"What? Isn't she a little young to drive?"
"No. I mean, yes. No. She was a stray I picked up out in the country." I was flustered, so I tried to redirect the conversation. "What about you and Molly?"
Lindsay reached down and scratched behind Molly's ears. "Molly was the runt of the litter. She's out of my mother's champion bitch and stud. Mom was afraid she wouldn't make it, so she practically hand-raised her. Once Molly was weaned, Mom talked me into taking her."
"She's a beautiful dog. No one would ever know she had a shaky start."
"Yeah. Mom always told me love is remarkable. It can heal almost anything."
I just nodded. I really didn't feel like talking about the power of love. I looked around, trying to come up with something else to talk about. "I like this time of year. I like the cooler weather, the changing colors, and the shorter days."
"You like the cold?" She seemed surprised. "I do too. Usually everybody looks at me like I'm a nut when I start wishing for snow."
"Snow is great. It makes for the perfect chili weather."
"Well, we have something in common then. I also enjoy hot, fresh bread on those cold mornings."
The thought of Lindsay in the morning was making my brain freeze. I needed to get out of there. "Well, it's been nice, but we need to go. Thanks for the ice cream."
"So soon?" She sounded disappointed when she said, "Molly and I will walk you back to your car."
"That's okay. I don't want you to go out of your way."
"It's not out of our way, honest. We live just a couple blocks from the park."
"Oh. Okay. Fine." I wasn't sure if I'd be able to walk and carry on a conversation at the same time. I accepted her company and concentrated on trying not to be clumsy.
We got up, claimed our respective leashes, and started back. We stopped at the intersection to wait for a couple of cars to pass. While we were standing there, Molly started licking Brown Dog's ears. If Brown Dog had been a cat, she would have been purring. I was embarrassed. Lindsay was going to think my dog had dirty ears. "Molly, her ears are clean, really. I just gave Brown Dog a bath last night."
"Really?" Lindsay looked interested. "She get into something? That's usually what happens with Molly."
"Yeah, she found something disgusting to roll in. It's such a pain to bathe her too. She's so big I have to climb into the tub with her." We were crossing the street and just about to the other side.
"I know what you mean. When it's time for Molly's bath I have to strip down and get in the tub too."
Shit. I tripped. I would have gone face first into the curb if Lindsay hadn't caught my arm.
"Are you okay?"
"Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. Left feet." I was watching said feet. There was no way I was looking her in the eye. She couldn't know what she did to me. Brown Dog nudged my knee with her nose.
"No, it's all right. There's a crack there. It could have happened to anybody." Lindsay let go of my arm and patted my back.
"Right. Maybe I should train Brown Dog to be a Seeing Eye Dog. She could guide me around dangerous obstacles." I stopped a few feet from the car trying to regain whatever composure I could.
"I'm sure she would look quite handsome in one of those harnesses." Lindsay started adjusting Molly's collar. "So, do you like using the park for training?" Lindsay gave me a sideways glance.
I looked out at the playground equipment and ball fields. Since it was late, no one else was around. There were lights here and there. "Yeah. There's plenty of room and a few distractions for Brown Dog to deal with." I started moving towards my car again. Hopefully, I would be able to drive away without running into a tree or something.
"Do you think she would be too distracted if Molly and I trained here at the same time?"
"But Molly's already perfect. Why would you want to keep training?" We got to the car and I was unlocking the doors.
"Thank you, but my dog is hardly perfect." Lindsay frowned and started to move away. "But it's okay if you don't want us to train at the same time you do. I would understand if you thought it would be too much of a distraction for you and Brown Dog."
"No, no. I didn't . . . That's not what I meant." What was I thinking? Lindsay had been charming and kind all evening and I just insulted her. "You're more than welcome to join us. Maybe Brown Dog could pick up a few pointers. Really. We'll be here Saturday afternoon around one."
"Good. Molly and I are a little rusty and the work will be good for the both of us." She seemed satisfied with my retreat.
"Okay, that will be nice." As I drove off, I went over the whole night's conversation. Yeah, now it made sense. Lindsay just wanted someone to train with so Molly could stay sharp. We could do that. It would be nice if we could become friends. "She's easy to talk to isn't she, Brown Dog?" Brown Dog didn't answer. She was stretched out in the back seat, asleep.
Brown Dog and I arrived at the park right at 1:00 on Saturday. Lindsay and Molly were waiting. We worked together and afterwards we went to Dairy Queen. The dogs weren't getting any ice cream this time. Lindsay had some dog biscuits that she planned to split between Molly and Brown Dog.
It was my turn to treat. I left the dogs with Lindsay and went up to the window to order a couple of chocolate shakes. The picnic table we had used the other night was occupied, but another table on the opposite side of the lot was free. I handed Lindsay her shake and was getting ready to sit down, when I noticed that the surface of the table had all sorts of names and initials carved in it.
Lindsay noticed my interest. "It's the Sweet Heart Table."
"The what?" I had never heard of it before.
"Sweet Heart Table. The high school kids carve their own and their love's initials in the table top for luck."
"That could get kind of messy," I said.
"Well, the owners of the DQ usually wind up replacing the boards two or three times a year. That way there's always room for more additions."
"Oh. Did you go to school here? Is that how you know all this?"
"Yep. Seems like a hundred years ago, even though it's only been ten."
I was surprised. "You're four years older than me. I thought you were younger."
"Why thank you, kind lady," she laughed.
I blushed. She had the prettiest laugh and I was pleased that I had caused it. I drank some of my shake and traced a few of the carvings with my fingers. I wonder? I knew I was going to hate myself for asking, but I really wanted to know. "So, were your initials carved on the table?"
Lindsay looked at me while she took a drink. She had a neutral expression and I wasn't sure if she was going to answer. "Yes. They were carved on the boards for a time."
Of course they were. She probably went steady with the captain of the football team or the student body president. I changed the subject. I didn't want to know. Well, I did but I didn't.
Afterwards, Lindsay and Molly walked us back to the car. This time I paid careful attention to where I was walking.
"She's getting better." Lindsay bumped my shoulder with hers as we leaned against my car.
"She just likes showing off for Molly." Brown Dog was letting Molly lick her ears again.
"You want to do this again tomorrow?"
"I suppose so. It's good practice and I think Brown Dog is enjoying it." I was fiddling with the leash. It had been a while since I had a friend to hang out with. I wanted to spend more time with Lindsay, but I also didn't want to impose on her.
"Good. Why don't we start a little earlier, then you and Brown Dog can come over for lunch."
"Thanks, you don't have to do that." I could not imagine what it would be like to eat a full meal with her. Ice cream was easy. There was very little chewing involved, so the risk of choking was minimized.
"I want to. Be here around 10:00. We can work for a bit and go to my place for lunch."
"Are you sure? We, uh, I don't want to put you out." Surely she had better things to do than hang out with us.
"It's settled. See you tomorrow." She waved as she and Molly strolled away.
Well, I guess not.
The next morning we met and after working with the dogs, we were ready to go to Lindsay's house. I suggested we take my car. I had spent yesterday afternoon cleaning out the trash and vacuuming up the worse of the dog hair. I even washed the windows inside and out. I had to. Brown Dog likes to press her nose up against the window whenever we go for a drive. I still wasn't sure how the windshield got nose prints on it, since she always rides in the back.
I opened the rear passenger door and let Molly in. I thought Brown Dog would just follow Molly into the back seat, but she just looked at me and sat down. I held the door for Lindsay next. After she was settled, Brown Dog and I walked around the rear of the car. "You are such a suckup," I accused my friend. Brown Dog just panted and looked up at me.
Lindsay's house was a small ranch with a fenced-in back yard. The front yard still had a lot of flowers and looked like it had been professionally landscaped. I stopped to stare as we approached. "Wow. This looks nice." The flagstone walk leading to the door was lined with blue and yellow pansies. There were several beds of flowers with tuffs of ornamental grasses as accents.
"Thank you. I really enjoy gardening. It helps me relax after a long day." Lindsay unlocked the front door and held it open so the dogs and I could enter. She gestured to the right, "This is the living room and through that doorway is the kitchen. The bathroom and bedrooms are down this hall. Let's go on in the kitchen and we can let the dogs out."
Lindsay had made a crock-pot of chili and some homemade bread. We let the dogs out into the back yard to sniff and relax. Molly seemed to be giving Brown Dog the nickel tour. I saw them visit the maple tree and look up into the branches. Maybe Molly was telling Brown Dog about a squirrel that lived up there.
We talked about a lot of things during lunch. We liked a lot of the same science fiction books and our taste in movies was similar. We eventually worked our way around to relationships. I was hoping we could avoid this area of discussion. Lindsay told me she wasn't seeing anyone. Then she asked if I was seeing anyone. Now the chili didn't seem like such a good idea. I had this mini debate going in my head about what I should say and how I should say it. I finally gave up and went with the truth.
"No, I'm not seeing anyone. My girlfriend and I broke up a few months ago." I just looked down at my bowl and waited for the reaction. It was so quiet I could hear the clock on the wall ticking.
Lindsay reached for the chili and muttered, "Freakin' idiot."
Startled, I looked at Lindsay, questioning my hearing.
"Oh, would you like another bowl? How about some more bread?" she asked helpfully.
I still wasn't sure about what I heard and must have looked puzzled. She seemed to be enjoying my discomfort.
"Yes?" she drawled.
"Wha, uh, nothing. No thank you, no more for me."
"Hey," she said. She reached over and put her hand on top of mine. "It's okay, really. I understand. We have more in common than our taste in reading material and fondness for cold weather."
"I was afraid to say anything," I said softly.
She crossed her arms on the table and leaned forward. "Why? Didn't you have any clue whatsoever?"
I felt my face turning red and looked down into my bowl. "Well, no. I mean, at first I was just kind of hoping. I've never had any luck with that whole gaydar thing. But I was hoping we could be friends and I wouldn't have to pretend around you. Then you told me your initials were carved on the Sweet Heart Table. So I figured there was no way."
She smiled as she leaned back in her chair. "Ah yes, the dreaded Sweet Heart Table. In my senior year, Sam and I carved our initials on the table. Two weeks later, I took my father's orbital sander and a 50 foot extension cord to the DQ and took the initials and a good-size divot out of the table top."
"Sam?" I was confused. I must have misunderstood.
"Yes, Samantha Carson, head cheerleader and my first major crush. I found her with my second-best friend Julie in the girls' locker room after school. Let's just say they weren't practicing cheers for the school Pep rally."
"Ohhhh." Sam, obviously you were insane.
"Now your turn." She leaned forward again. "How long were you with your girlfriend?"
I wasn't really comfortable talking about her. "Almost two years. We broke up around the end of January. I suppose it did save me having to buy that last Valentine's Day gift."
She looked at me like she was trying to do some math problem in her head. Her forehead was all wrinkled and she had a puzzled look on her face. "Didn't you say you moved into your house a couple of months before you found Brown Dog?"
"Yeah. Liza and I had an apartment in Lincoln when she decided we should move to the country."
Lindsay started tapping her fingers on the table. She had a ferocious frown and her eyes were bright and intense. For some reason, she was pissed and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what I had done. I promised myself that as soon as I found out, I would never do it again.
Lindsay looked like she was waiting for more details, so I continued. "I quit my job and we moved here. We were in the house two weeks when Liza told me she was leaving. Evidently, we weren't as compatible as I thought. I was able to find a job in town and still afford the rent. The rest, as they say, is history."
"That bitch. She moved with you and then left?"
Lindsay was angry at Liza? "Well, yeah, but we were having some problems before then. I thought we could start over in a new place." I hadn't seen Liza since she left. It still hurt because I was such an idiot. I should have realized. I should have picked up on all the little clues I saw now with 20-20 hindsight. Liza was always busy with work, so we hardly ever went out. I would buy her flowers and she got me gift certificates.
Lindsay's expression calmed as she reached over and touched my hand. "Why didn't you move back to Lincoln?"
"Well, it's not like there was anything for me there. The old job wasn't that great and I really didn't know many people." I was still playing with my spoon in the empty bowl. Damn. Not only was I an idiot, I was pathetic.
Lindsay just patted the back of my hand and said, "I'm sorry I brought back bad memories."
"It's okay." I went back to playing with my empty bowl, trying to take in everything that had just happened. Why would Lindsay care about my breakup? I decided she must have felt sorry for my pathetic self.
"Come on. Help me clear the table and we'll go watch television or something."
"Thanks." I was happy to have survived the conversation. I helped clear away the dirty dishes and loaded the dishwasher. Afterwards we brought the dogs in and found a football game on television. We didn't really talk much more, but it was a comfortable quiet. Liza and I hardly ever just sat down and talked or watched television together. What had I been thinking all that time? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was beyond pathetic. I was a complete dumbass to have stayed in that relationship as long as I did. After the game, I called Brown Dog and we got ready to leave. "Thanks for lunch. I had a good time."
"You're welcome. I'll see you at class on Tuesday."
"Yeah, see you then." It felt weird leaving her. I felt like I should be doing or saying something. Lindsay reached out her hand and paused, then patted me on the arm. Weird. It felt like she meant to do something else and changed her mind.
Class Tuesday was fun. Black and Decker decided to do the entire heeling exercise with their noses to the ground. Evidently, a horse pasture was a beagle's idea of heaven. Ben and Mary laughed about it and said they were just happy the Demon Dogs from Hell were in the proper position, at their side. Mike and Murphy were having some problems with the sit at stop. Clare was spending a little extra time with them. Brown Dog still was not too sure about all the other dogs. Killer was giving her the evil eye. But she knew Molly and seemed more relaxed when Molly was near. I ended up next to Lindsay for most of the class. I had to keep my dog happy.
A couple days later, we were training in the park again. Brown Dog was going through one of her insecure moods. We were working on the long down stay. I would give the command and Brown Dog would hit the dirt. But as soon as I took more than three steps away, she was up and after me. I was getting frustrated, so I told Lindsay, "I better quit for the night. I don't want to snap at Brown Dog."
"That's all right. We could use a break too."
I threw up my hands and said, "Yeah, right. Molly's a rock. She'd stay there for weeks if you told her to." I was exasperated, frustrated, and a little depressed. I knew there was more to Brown Dog than what everyone else saw. I turned away and looked across the park. I didn't want Lindsay to see me do something stupid, like cry. I felt her move behind me and pat my back. I was so tempted to just turn around and move into her arms. But I knew I couldn't. We were just friends and I had never had the hugging kind of friend before.
Lindsay softly said, "These things just take time and a little patience. Someone hurt her before you came along. She has to learn to trust the people that love her. Just be there for her, give her some support, and show her you won't hurt her. You build a relationship a little bit at a time. One day you'll see that it was worth the effort."
That made sense and I felt better. I knelt down and hugged Brown Dog. No matter what, I wanted her to know I loved her. We would work through this together.
Lindsay squeezed my shoulder and said, "How about we take a breather? We can pick it up again in a couple of days. You and Brown Dog can relax, maybe take a walk or chase a ball around the yard. Then we'll work some more."
And that was how life went for the next few weeks. We would meet at the park two or three times a week. Sundays would be lunch at Lindsay's or my house. Then class on Tuesdays. The course was set for eight weeks. At week six, the schedule changed.
We got to class a few minutes later than usual. Lindsay and Molly met Brown Dog and me as we entered the pasture.
"Did you hear what happened?" Lindsay's voice sounded tight and I noticed her white knuckled grip on Molly's lead.
"No. What's wrong?" I was instantly worried. I hadn't seen Lindsay this upset since the first time we had lunch together.
"Clare was in an accident. She's going to be okay, but she's in the hospital now."
"That's terrible. About the accident, that is. I'm glad she's going to be okay." Lindsay wasn't just upset; she was agitated for some reason. She kept glancing over her shoulder at the road. Then she started pulling Molly's lead back and forth through her hands. "So class is cancelled?" I asked.
"No. Not exactly. Clare's brother has volunteered to teach the rest of the classes." Lindsay frowned as she looked out to the road.
"Okay. That was nice of him," I offered. I still didn't completely understand Lindsay's mood.
"Nice is not a word I would associate with Brad." Lindsay looked positively grim.
I was going to ask her to elaborate when I heard a vehicle turn into the drive. It was a pickup truck with tall over-sized tires and a homemade camouflage paint scheme. The truck sported two whip antennas, a brush guard on the front, and a light bar topping the cab. This was a serious truck.
"Great. He's still driving that redneck's wet dream of a truck," Lindsay muttered.
Before I could ask her what she meant, Brad jumped down out of his truck. He was a couple inches taller than me, with a slender build. What hair he had was in a short crew cut. What really surprised me was the fact that he was wearing camouflage fatigues. Was he expecting hostile enemy action? He stalked towards our group and yelled for us to line up.
I hadn't even been introduced and I didn't like the guy. "Are you sure he's related to Clare?" I whispered to Lindsay. Lindsay just looked at him and shook her head.
"Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let's get started. First off, let's do a few simple exercises so I can see how everyone stands. Heel your dogs towards the far end of the field and I'll tell you when to turn." Brad stood ramrod straight, shoulders back, hands clasped behind his back.
Good grief. Is he at parade rest? I reached down and patted Brown Dog's head. "Heel," I commanded, starting forward with the rest of the class. Since I was at the end of the line, Brown Dog was between Lindsay and me. I figured she would be comfortable surrounded by friends.
Halfway to the fence line, Brad yelled "About face!"
About face? What happened to plain old reverse? We all turned and started back towards Brad. Brown Dog was doing okay, although she was crowding me a bit. Brad yelled halt and went to talk to Mike at the other end of the line. It looked like he was going to work his way down the line talking to each of us. I just kept petting Brown Dog's ears and tried to relax. Since we reversed, Brown Dog was now sitting at the end of the line. She should have been more relaxed, but I think she picked up on my nervousness.
"Lindsay." I tried to quietly get Lindsay's attention. She glanced down the line to check Brad's position and looked back at me. "What's the deal? When did we join the army?"
"Brad is a little intense," she whispered.
"Why are we whispering?" Lindsay just looked at me and shrugged.
Brad finally worked his way down to Lindsay. "Well, hello there, stranger. How have you been?" Brad crossed his arms and looked down at Lindsay.
"Brad. Nice seeing you again." Lindsay replied coolly.
"I see you still have that runt. When are you going to get a real dog?" He smirked and glanced at Molly.
Molly did not look happy and Lindsay looked mad. I felt my temper start to rise. Brad obviously wasn't very bright. Maybe when he was a kid, he had been dropped on his head. Repeatedly.
"Leave Molly alone, Brad." Lindsay was steaming.
"Oh, I was just joking. Don't get your panties in a bunch." Brad turned to me. "And who do we have here? Where's your dog?"
"What?" I looked down frantic. Did she slip out of her collar? I had visions of racing all over the county looking for my dog. I was relieved when I saw her. Brown Dog was behind me, trying to be invisible again. "Come on, girl." I gently pulled her back beside me.
"What's his name?" Brad snarled. He obviously was not impressed.
"Her name is Brown Dog. She's just a little shy," I explained.
"What kind of name is Brown Dog?" Brad bent down and stared at Brown Dog. Brown Dog decided discretion was the better part of valor and slipped behind me again.
"Brad. Leave her alone," Lindsay warned as she moved closer to me.
"I'm not doing anything to the mutt. Yet," Brad growled. He backed off and moved out in front again. "Okay, people. You all need a lot of work. Let's try heeling your dogs in a circle. Use those collars to give corrections. Take command of your dogs. You are in charge of them. Right face. Forward." Brad's voice boomed across the pasture.
Right face, my foot. I'll right-face you, you overgrown toy soldier. Damn fool insulted Lindsay and Molly, practically gave me a heart attack, and scared my dog. Brown Dog just kept getting closer and closer to my legs. She was not a happy camper. Brad's booming voice was not helping matters, especially since there was no bed for Brown Dog to hide under. Brad noticed what she was doing and yelled for us to stop, as he stomped towards us.
"You're not doing it right! Get that dog away from your legs! Use the collar to give her a correction." He was barking orders like a drill instructor.
Brown Dog went behind me to hide. Before I knew what was happening, the jerk had taken the leash out of my hands and was hauling my dog to the center of the circle. Brown Dog was trying to back away and getting strangled by the choke collar.
I'm not real clear about what happened after that. The next thing I knew, I had Brown Dog's leash in my hand and Brad was sitting on the ground looking up at me. He looked surprised. That only lasted a second before he turned beet red and started to get up. He was yelling at my dog and me, "You stupid bitch. What the hell . . ."
At the same time I started yelling, "You bastard, you touch my dog again and I'll . . ."
We heard a strange noise and quit yelling at the same time. I looked down; Brown Dog's hackles were up and her teeth bared. The noise was coming from her. Brown Dog? Growling! Holy shit! Brown Dog stepped in front of me and continued to growl at the asshole. I reached down and grabbed her harness. "He's not worth it, girl. Let's go."
We left. I let Brown Dog get in the back seat and slammed the door shut. Brown Dog stared out the window and snarled at the jerk in the pasture. I got in the car without looking back and drove home. I was in shock. I'm not exactly sure how that asshole wound up sitting on the ground, but I think I pushed him. I've never done anything like that before. I've always been in control. It was kind of scary and I didn't feel so good.
It wasn't until we got home that I even thought about Lindsay. "Damn. Blew that all to hell and gone." I felt shaky and a little lightheaded as Brown Dog and I headed for the kitchen. I told myself I would not cry as I reached for the canister with the dog biscuits. "Well, Brown Dog, at least we have each other." I gave Brown Dog a dog biscuit while I heated up some water for tea. Brown Dog left the kitchen and went to the front door. I heard someone knocking.
I shouldn't have been surprised. But I was. Lindsay and Molly were at the front door. I let them in and Molly went to Brown Dog and started licking Brown Dog's ear. Brown Dog ducked her head and let Molly have her way. Before I could apologize, Lindsay wrapped her arms around me. She felt wonderful. I just relaxed into the hug and put my head on her shoulder.
After a bit, she patted me on the back. "Are you okay?" she asked as she led me back to the kitchen.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm sorry I lost my temper. I didn't mean to ruin class. But he . . ."
She didn't give me a chance to finish. "You did not ruin class. He did! After you left, the rest of us gave him a piece of our mind and ran him off. We all decided to just wait for Clare to finish the classes. Now sit down while I make some tea."
Before I knew it, I was sitting at the table drinking tea. The dogs were sacked out on the floor. "Thanks for coming over." I was staring into my cup. I was having that eye-contact problem again.
She moved her chair closer to mine and put her hand on my shoulder and gently squeezed. "I was worried about you."
She was worried about me? I looked up and what I saw made me smile. Her eyes were shining and she had this little grin. Well, maybe it was more of a smirk. My God, she is beautiful.
So that's how it was when my life changed. We started dating. I mean we actually went somewhere other than Dairy Queen with the dogs. We had Thanksgiving together and went to her parents' house for Christmas. We even took the dogs. Brown Dog and I got to meet Molly's parents too. Afterwards, Brown Dog found an end table to hide under. Molly sat down next to her keeping watch.
Lindsay's mom was still involved with Golden Retrievers. She said her current champion was due to deliver a litter in a couple weeks. She offered us a pup if we wanted. Lindsay said she wasn't ready for three dogs, maybe the next litter. I liked the sound of that. I wondered if I could build a kennel.
Some months later, Brown Dog and I were sitting in the yard under a tree. Spring had finally arrived. The tree was starting to bud out and we were watching some robins hop around in the grass. Brown Dog was content to just sit and watch, not chase. Lindsay pulled up and got out of her car. She let Molly out of the back seat and they both bounced around the car and trotted over to us. I swear they were wearing identical expressions. They were smiling and the breeze was blowing through their hair. I started laughing.
The two of them bopping along in the sun reminded me of some shampoo commercial. Then the Doublemint Twins popped into my mind. I completely lost it and started rolling around under the tree, laughing my ass off. I could hardly breathe and tears were pouring down my face. Brown Dog got the wrinkled forehead thing and kept cocking her head one way then the other. She had no clue what was going on.
Lindsay was still smiling, but with a questioning expression, when she came up and stood over me. "Ok, what's the joke?" she asked.
I was still laughing when I said, "You know, it's true what they say. Some people do look like their dogs."
Lindsay's expression froze. She took a deep breath and this red color started climbing up her neck, over her cheekbones and past her eyebrows. "Ya. Nah, wh. Ddd."
She lost the ability to speak in complete syllables. Vanna, may I buy a vowel? I slapped my hands over my mouth before that phrase could fall out of my face.
She continued to sputter and started making wild gestures. First, she pointed at Brown Dog, then me, and then she threw both hands in the air. At this point, she clamped her jaw shut, did an abrupt about-face, and stormed into the house.
"Oh, no," I groaned. I really screwed up and she was pissed. I would need to build a doghouse just to have a place to sleep if I didn't get in there and do some serious groveling. Brown Dog just sat there looking at me. Molly flopped down next to her buddy and still had a doggy smile. "Well, guys, wish me luck. Otherwise, I get the doggy bed by the window."
I went into the house looking for Lindsay. Since she wasn't in the living room and the dining room was clear, I headed into the kitchen. She was at the sink and her back was to me. Her shoulders were shaking and it looked like she was crying.
Go on, you doofus, apologize. "Lindsay? Honey? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you mad." I was slowly walking up to her as I was talking. If groveling didn't work, begging was next. I put my arms around her and gave her a gentle hug. "Please forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Lindsay turned in my arms and looked at me. She wasn't crying. Well, there were tears in her eyes, but she was laughing. I was thoroughly confused. "Honey?"
"Shut up and kiss me, you goof," she commanded. So I did. She never did explain what that was all about. She said I would figure it out one of these days.
So that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Oh wait, that's a song. Well, I could end by saying 'and they lived happily ever after.' It just seems presumptuous since it has only been a year since that first class. Lindsay says these things take time and patience. I guess so. As far as I'm concerned, this is where I was meant to be. I don't want to rush her, so I'll let her set her own pace.
"Are you finished yet?" Lindsay is sitting on the couch reading the newspaper. She has been very patient while I tried to get all this written down.
"I think so," I replied.
"So how did you start? I hope you didn't use something lame like 'It was a dark and stormy night'."
"Well, I could always re-write the beginning." I knew she wouldn't like it. Maybe I could get Brown Dog to eat it. I could put the pages in a fish sandwich and leave it on the counter.
"No, let me read it first. As long as the ending is strong it should be okay."
"Yeah, the end is good." Oh, what the hell.
And They Lived Happily Ever After.