Someone pinch me, make this day end. I bend beside Kuda’s poop, the rotten meat stench swirling in my nostrils.
“Ugh. Dog. Stop digging up my trash.” I plug my nose.
With my other hand, I retrieve a paper bag from my pink hoodie pocket, puke rising from my gut as I crouch closer to the poop. What I do for this dog. Only six months-old and he’s caused more damage to my condo than my four previous dogs combined.
Kuda sniffs my hair.
“Quit it.” I shake my head. “Don’t play dumb.”
His brown tail wags quicker than the red leaves on that giant maple. Above, its autumn branches block the bright Minneapolis skyline, its mossy trunk propped in the middle of an oblong field where twenty other dogs and owners roam. A Dachshund barks wildly. Two identical Beagles jump for a tossed ball while, in the distance, a familiar Golden Retriever sits like Kuda here, waiting for his owner to clean up the turd-dump that’s probably way less messy than Kuda’s.
“Listen, hefty dude. Tail wagging’s not getting you off the hook. Ya know what you did. The kitchen. Last night. Garbage all over. Ring a bell?”
Kuda whines, his big Bernese Mountain Dog eyes peeking down at mine.
“Still not happy.”
He licks my cheek.
I giggle. “Fine. I forgive you. This time.” I smile stiffly, my annoyance waning from my nauseated gut. “You’re lucky. Coulda been worse than the day-old steak you ate. A rock or chemicals woulda done you in.”
I unfold the bag. A gust of wind, whipping through the frost-crusted grass, grabs the bag from my fingers and flies it over Kuda. It lands yards away on someone’s black loafers. Loafers that stand next to that familiar Golden Retriever. Loafers I’ve seen at this Dog Park twice. I’m certain of the loafer’s identity once wide brown fingers descend. I watch the fingers pluck the bag up, watch the loafers walk my way.
Eek. It’s him. It’s my chance. Anyone have a mirror? My hair’s drooping from my pony-tail. My teeth aren’t even brushed. My make-up’s not on. Of all days, I had to wear sweat pants. Had to bypass a shower, and a breath freshener. I must resemble a frumpy forty-year-old troll. A troll I really hope he’ll decide is sexy. Sexy as him? Impossible. He’s sexier than Idris Elba. Check out his chocolate chiseled jawline, perfectly peppered with unshaven stubble. His biceps slightly bulging beneath his leather jacket. His lips full and completely kissable. And his toned legs, visible beneath his tight jeans, tense as he strides near enough my lungs squeeze and my throat dries.
When he and his dog halt inches from Kuda and I, I swear my mouth glues shut.
Earth to, Charlene. Speak. Move. Do something! Can’t. All I can do is crouch like a dummy over Kuda’s poop while that Dachshund barks in the background, Kuda sizes up the Golden Retriever and the wind, blowing every few seconds, muffles Chiseled-jaw guy’s deep baritone voice.
Maybe he’s saying — Hey Charlene, how’s it going? Nice hoodie. Or maybe. So glad we bumped into each other, babe. I’ve been imagining you.
“I’ve been imagining you too.” I suddenly blurt.
Crap. I didn’t say that? Did I?
I stare at him, dumbfounded.
His brows arch. “What’d ya say?”
“Uhhh. Nevermind.” I swallow slowly, attempting to stand. My feet catch on each other and I stumble, falling face-first in Kuda’s poop. The smell’s putrid, the taste, oh God, now that’s absolutely repulsive. I vomit on my hands.
Please. Tell me this is a nightmare. Like one of those dreams where you enter a public space completely naked, and hope no one notices you.
Except I’m in no dream. I’m in reality, mortified under the gaping stares of every person in this darn dog park, Chiseled-jaw guy included.
He’s laughing his ass off, even slapping his knee. Granted it’s a bit funny, the way I flopped on the ground like a fish outta water, slathered my chin in shit and puked. Then again, it wasn’t him who fell. It was me. And he has the gull to poke fun at my expense? Pisses me off.
Kuda growls his way.
Good doggie. Least you got my back. I wipe the poop and vomit off with my sleeve, then spring to my feet.
“You’ve got some nerve laughing.” I plant my hands on my hips.
Chiseled-jaw guy laughs harder. “You’re cute, you know.”
“Say what? You calling my stinky face cute?”
Kuda growls louder.
The Golden Retriever growls in response, arcing his spine ready to attack.
Try it. Kuda will take you down.
“Give it a rest, Henley.” Chiseled-jaw guy manages between laughing breaths.
The Golden Retriever settles. So does Kuda.
“Name’s Cedric.” Chiseled-jaw guy finally stops laughing and slides a hand through his longish black locks. “Got some towels in my apartment if you want. It’s right around the corner.”
Seriously? He’s asking me to his place? “Um, okay. That’d be…uh… helpful.” Though I don’t know much about him other than he’s gorgeous.
My stomach churns. What if he’s a serial killer? A killer who’s gonna what? Strangle me with towels? Get a clue, Charlene. He’s being kind. That ain’t a crime. It’s a turn on.
I follow him across the field, Kuda at my heels. “If things go bad, you know what to do.” I whisper Kuda’s way. Kuda’s ears perk up.
Cedric glances back at me and grins as if he might laugh again; his eyes playful, as warm as a teddy bear’s, yet sparked with sizzling intrigue. It’s official. I’m ditching that towel. A hot ride in his shower will be much more relaxing. Given how many years I’ve gone without a man’s touch, I’m itching to break my dry spell. To invite him in with me, slick my soapy hands down his muscled torso and cling to him while we bounce under that smoking water until I’m panting like Kuda.
He bolts for a squirrel, and scampers out of the park.
“I’ll get him.” Cedric throws over his shoulder, then races after Kuda.
Henley tails them. I sprint behind, my heart pounding when Kuda hits the sidewalk. He darts for the traffic-crammed street.
“Stop. Kuda. Stop,” I scream.
Cedric nabs Kuda’s collar at the sidewalk’s edge.
Phew. He leads Kuda to a brick building where I also head. Pausing at the entrance, I catch my breath.
“Here ya go.” Cedric hands Kuda to me.
“Thanks.” I clip Kuda’s leash on. “Dog you’re gonna be the death of me.”
Cedric chuckles. “Gotta love pups.”
“That you do.” I flip my pony-tail.
He says, “How ‘bout we get you cleaned up?”
“We?” I blush.
He winks. Holding the door open for me, his gaze blazes into mine, leaving me speechless and completely damp.
I think I might’ve peed myself. Or perhaps it’s Kuda slobbering on my thigh. Whichever it is, doesn’t matter. I’m totally into Cedric. And I’m pretty sure he’s into me too.
Someone pinch me, make this day last forever.
© Joy Shaw
About the Author: A bookworm from the beginning, my nose was often stuck in the pages of mysteries, romances and thrillers. Fast forward to the present, and my longing for good literature remains strong. As an avid poet, I pen my fiction with a poetry-prose style and pepper in contemporary issues and personal experiences. Recently, I placed in the top six of a poetry contest — for my poem, Beautiful — out of twenty-five hundred entries. On the same booksie.com site, I also won first prize for my short-story, Pussy Reaper’s Revenge; just one of the stories in my dynamic short-story collection, Brave Girls, Brave Tales. Based on Pussy Reaper’s Revenge, I am currently writing a YA urban sci-fi novel, renamed The Starlit Reaper. Call me adventurous, a lot bit zany too. I love backpacking rugged terrain, cross-country skiing, Finnish saunas, vacations to national parks and time spent in the university town of Ann Arbor where I share my days with my funny, precocious four-year-old son and my loving husband. My life would not be complete without my family or without my writing.
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