It became a common occurrence when I got off of work for my dog to be floating just outside the door, tail wagging, gently propelling him in a circle while he waited for me. Once I was outside, his body would quiver as his tail picked up speed and he shot toward me. His tongue licked my face as I scrunched up my eyes and lips, smiling. I knew he was licking at the taco grease just as much as he was licking because he was happy to see me. It didn’t bother me.
“Hey boy, I missed you too! You gotta stop coming to work, though.” I ruffled the fur on his head, causing his tail to fan even faster momentarily.
I motioned for him to follow, and I walked towards my car, anxious to get home and shower off the grease and smell he loved so much. He floated faithfully along behind me.
“Hey, Josh. Just getting off of work, huh?”
I turned, and saw Krystal, a coworker, getting out of her car. She was adjusting her hat, tucking a few stray strands of hair away. “Yeah. Shadow was waiting for me again. By now, you’d I think I’d start leaving him in the house instead of the yard.”
Krystal looked down, her face hidden beneath her hat, and fiddled with her nametag. Apparently, she was assured that she was in fact wearing her nametag, because she looked back up at me with a smile, her eyes partially hidden by her hat’s brim. She seemed to stare past Shadow and at me. “He does seem to follow you everywhere. He’s got a fitting name.”
I smiled, looking into Shadow’s brown eyes floating a few feet from mine, and playfully tugged on one of his ears. “He does, doesn’t he.”
Krystal’s smile stiffened for just a moment. It was like a flash of lightning, done and over before I could be sure that I even saw anything. “Well, I better get inside, Josh. I can’t afford another write-up. Have a good night.”
Her face tightened as she turned away, creasing with an emotion I couldn’t understand. Like me, she just probably didn’t like going to work. Krystal disappeared through the glass doors of Taco Bell, and I gratefully opened the door of my car to let Shadow float in before I sat down. He circled the front seat a couple of times before landing and settling down in a little ball. His tail curled around and covered his nose like a little blanket.
At home, Shadow trotted along behind me, on the ground, through the front door. He followed me as I stripped out of my uniform, pausing to sniff the pile of clothes and giving my shoes a surveying lick. He stopped at my stern “Shadow!” and followed me into the bathroom. I flipped on the heater, and started the shower, and he looked at me with sad brown eyes. He always thought he lost me as soon as the shower curtain cut me off from eyesight. I could hear his soft whines over the hiss of the water and steam that grabbed the taco smell and spiraled it down the drain.
He was there, sitting, tail wagging when I opened the curtain and grabbed the towel. When I started to dry myself, he moved forward to help, tongue tickling my knee. After I was dry and in clothes that didn’t smell like where I worked, I fed him, and poured a bowl of frosted flakes for myself. He crunched away happily, and I went into the living room to watch some Mythbusters while I ate my cereal. Before I finished, I heard his nails clicking on the laminate floor, and he jumped onto the couch next to me, curling up into a little brown and tan ball of fur, his head resting on my knee.
“Hey buddy, was your dinner good?” I scratched behind his ear, and he replied with a limp tail wag. “Good. Mine’s not too bad either.”
Mythbusters over, I resigned myself to doing my homework. Shadow stayed by my side as I typed away on the keyboard, trying to decide if I really agreed with Descartes as I wrote an essay saying that I did because that’s what my professor wanted. My typing was interrupted by a soft whine. Shadow looked up at me, ears down.
“Okay, we’ll go outside.”
His ears perked up, and he jumped off the couch, landing on the carpet with a muffled thud as he raced toward the door. He paced at the door, looking at the doorknob and back at me, clearly telling me that I wasn’t moving fast enough for him. I barely had the door open before he nosed past it and ran to the yard, waiting at the gate, doing the same dance. Once the gate was open, he bounded into the yard and stopped immediately, holding his front paw. As was usual for the weather, my front yard was mostly mud. Shadow hated mud. The way he walked and tried to avoid it gave the very clear impression that he didn’t like how it squished between his toes. He let out an exasperated sigh, sounding a lot like a horse, and gently nudged off the ground. He flew around the yard, sniffing everything: the fence, the few patches of grass, the dead rose bushes, the fence, where he had pooped earlier, the fence. Finally, he found the perfect spot, and he squatted down, hovering just over the muddy ground, and did his business. A sniff of his poop and a tail wag, he seemed satisfied and flew back over to the gate where he waited for me to open it for him.
“Dog, you can fly. And I know you can fly over the fence. You wait for me at work every day.”
Shadow just wagged his tail and watched me with those big, brown eyes. I sighed, wondering how I ended up with the one dog that wouldn’t fly over a fence when I was home, and opened the gate for him. Once over the sidewalk, he touched down and trotted up to the door, throwing his head back and wagging his tail, waiting for me to open the door.
“Three hard tacos, minus lettuce, plus sour cream will complete. Crunchwrap starts and completes the next.”
I grabbed pinches of cheese, threw them into the tacos, and wrapped them quickly, but carefully, to avoid breaking them. Set the bag on the drive counter. “Order up!”
Wrapped the crunchwrap, put it on the grill, slid it into its wrapper, set bag on drive counter. “Order up!”
There was a break in orders, so I lounged against the line, counting the minutes (there were just five) until I could clock out and go home.
“So, any plans for tonight, Josh?”
I glanced over Sydney. She was cleaning the food line while waiting for the next order to come in. “Not really. Just my usual. Feed the dog and myself, watch TV, and do homework.”
“That sounds super exciting.”
“Don’t you know it. I know how to have a grand ole time.”
Sydney laughed. “Well, if you want a break from all of your excitement, there’s this new zombie movie that’s out. If you’re interested.” She scrubbed at a particularly stubborn piece of baked on beef. She was biting her lip, as if calculating what she was saying. Or, just concentrating really hard on that beef. “In going with me?”
Now it was my turn to find something to concentrate on. I picked at some dried on sour cream on the line. She was cute. Short brown hair, nice eyes. I had never seen her outside of work, so I could only guess what her body looked like underneath the unflattering folds of black fabric that were our uniforms. What little skin I could see was pale and smooth, and it slipped underneath her clothes and out of sight. I wanted to go out with her. I wanted the opportunity to see her outside of her clothes. Well, work clothes at least. Homework wasn’t really an excuse, but I did worry about Shadow. He always waited for me outside of Taco Bell, and it was likely that he would get lost trying to find me at a movie theater. The dried sour cream was gone, and I realized I had been silent a little too long.
“You know, Sydney, I think I’d like that.” I looked up and caught a glimpse of a smile quiver over her lips. “What time’s the movie?”
I finished toweling myself off, with the aid of Shadow, and realized I probably should have picked out something to wear beforehand. I settled on the nicest pair of jeans I had, and a blue plaid button up.
“Alright, buddy, let’s take you outside so I can get going. We’ll have to take a rain check for our plans tonight.”
Shadow wagged his tail at me, and his ears were up. I had his attention, but it was only the word “outside” that he knew. He trotted along beside me, tail swishing through the air. His paws scratched at the door when I didn’t open it fast enough, and then he was out and waiting at the gate. I locked the gate behind him, checking my pockets for keys, wallet, and phone. Shadow jumped up to the fence, throwing his furry little chest out like a canine Napoleon. The gate locking had clued him in to the fact that I was leaving. He whined as I scratched between his ears.
“It’s okay, Shadow. I’ll only be gone for a few hours. If this date goes well, I’m sure you’ll meet her soon enough.”
Shadow’s tail was wagging slowly, but his ears were down, and he always had a way of making his face portray sad so well.
“I think you’d like her.” I patted his head a final time, got into my car, and went to meet Sydney at the theater.
The credits rolled white against the black screen. Sydney’s hand was in mine and I felt comfortable. It had been a good movie. Just the right amount of gore mixed with humor and horror. After most of the people had found their way to the front of the theater, I moved to stand up and follow their lead, but Sydney held onto my hand, and pulled me back down into my seat. Her lips pressed against mine, and my heart skipped a beat. They were a little rough from the dry theater air, but then her tongue slipped through and I returned her kiss with the same fervor. I slid my hand down around her waist to the small of her back. The shirt she wore was soft and stretched tightly, showing hints of her lace bra. Her clothes hugged her body, following curves that left little to my imagination. And my imagination was running wild. I was wondering if more forward groping was frowned upon on the first date when she slid a hand down onto my thigh. But then the theater cleaning crew banged in with their garbage carts, brooms, and tired movie jokes. We quickly broke apart, laughing, as we gathered our stuff and made our way out the theater.
“So, what’d you think of the movie, Josh?”
“It was good. They certainly left it open for another one.” I held the door for her and followed her into the hall.
“Hmm, I guess they like having options.” Sydney laughed, looking back at me. “Wonder what the sequel will be like.” She bit her bottom lip and reached back for my hand.
I smiled, holding open the theater’s main door to the night sky, thinking just what she could be hinting at. Outside, in the chilly night air, she hugged close to me, arms holding me tightly. I really liked how her body felt pressed against mine. Something small and brown caught my eye.
“Shadow!” I pulled away from Sydney and ran forward to pet him and make sure he was okay. “You crazy dog, you did find me!” His tail wagged as I patted his head.
“Josh? What are you doing?”
“What? He’s my dog.” I turned and saw Sydney staring at me. The expression on her face was impossible for me to read, but it confused and scared me.
“Oh, sweetie.” She walked slowly over to me and picked Shadow up. She gently folded him into quarters and slipped him wordlessly into my pocket. She brushed her lips over my cheek and ran her fingers through my hair. “It’s just a picture that blew out of your pocket.”
My eyes were moist, and I’ve never seen someone look at me with so much sadness in their soft, brown eyes. The wind blew her hair into my eyes, and I shut them tightly, trying to squeeze out the pain. I was glad she was holding me; it made it easier to stay standing. “But he’s my dog.”