The first thing I do is put a collar on Artis. I special ordered one from Etsy that lets anyone who finds her know that her mom is ugly crying because she’s lost. Her name and my cell number are engraved on the tag, along with my Instagram username. It’s the one form of social media that doesn’t piss me off on the regular. Artis walks great on leash so there’s no issues with me clipping one to her collar. As soon as I get home I’m going to update the information on her microchip so if she does somehow get loose, the company will be contacting the right person.
All it takes is a few signatures and Artis is officially mine. I discover that she’s made some friends in her time at the shelter. The workers there are all happy for her, yet sad to see her go because she’s been such a sweet girl to have around. That makes me happy. I feel good about giving this little dog a home of her own. I’ve been a stray before and I know how it feels to be passed by or left feeling unwanted.
“You ready for a car ride?” I ask once we’re out of the shelter. I hope that Aurelia coming to life won’t scare her. This is something I didn’t consider and maybe I should have.
Yet there is zero hesitation on Artis’ part when I open the passenger door for her. She jumps right in like that bucket seat was made to hold that furry little butt. All forty-two pounds of her fit just right, if I’m being honest. She sits pretty and I swear I see her smiling like she knows this is the last time she’ll ever be at the shelter. I close the door and walk around to the driver’s side of the car. When I sink down beside my new dog, she looks around curiously. She’s been in a car before, but I don’t know if she’s ever had the chance to stick her head out the window and be a real dog about it. I guess we’ll find out soon.
I roll my window down and she tries to climb over, which makes me glad I did not open her window all the way. The last thing I need is her jumping out at a red light. That would be a disaster. I’ve already got food bowls at home for her, but I wanted to wait until speaking with the people at the shelter to find out what sort of food she’s accustomed to. I would rather not mess with her diet too much if she’s good on what she’s been getting. However, there is a Kong in her future for her peanut butter treatos, because I’ve been informed that this is a girl who lives for peanut butter.
A girl after my own heart, you might say.
I pull into the parking lot of a smaller pet store that I like, as opposed to PetSmart or one of the equivalents. If I can support small or local businesses, I like to. I’m a small business. I get how important every customer through the door is. I have to parallel park, which is a bummer, but I’ve gotten better at it since leaving Louisiana. Shit, back there it’s a lot of gravel lots and no one gives a fuck. The same cannot be said for downtown Portland. I get out of the car and go around to let Artis out on the other side. I don’t want her walking in the busy street if I can help it.
Into the shop we walk and immediately I’m smacked in the face by the smell of doggy treats that are on display like it’s a canine bakery. There are even cupcakes for dogs in there.
“Girl, you just hit the jackpot,” I tell Artis, who has made a beeline for the peanut butter section. A girl behind the counter comes over to help us and I ask, “Can she eat one of these in the store? It’s her adoption day.”
“Oh, how exciting,” the girl grins. “What’s her name?”
“Artis,” I answer.
“What a pretty name for a pretty girl. She can absolutely have a treat in the store. What’s her favorite kind, do you know? I have peanut butter, bacon, and oatmeal.”
“I suspect she’ll take any of them but I’ve been told that peanut butter is her weakness.”
“You got it.” The girl turns around to get a treat for Artis. She comes back with a small “doggy bag” and a separate treat that’s shaped like a bone. She hands me both and says, “The doggy bag is a variety pack, special for babies that find forever homes. It’s on the house.”
“Oh, that’s very sweet of you, thank you.” Artis stands up on her hind legs, trying to get the bone-shaped treat from me. “No, Artis, sit,” I say firmly.
She knows basic commands but has the capacity to learn more. Artis sits down, her tail swishing back and forth while she waits for me to offer her a piece of the treat. Instead of giving her the whole treat at one time, I break it into thirds. She takes the piece I offer and doesn’t hesitate to chow it down. She’s not the most graceful eater, and the treat disappears in record time. Honestly, I’m not sure if she even chews it before it gets swallowed. I suppose that comes from being in a shelter situation. I don’t know if she’s ever lived in a home.
The shelter has warned me that it might take time for Artis to adjust, so if she’s not my BFF from day one, that’s completely normal. I give her another piece of the treat. Like the first piece it’s gone in nanoseconds.
“Girl, you need to slow down,” I tell her. Instead of giving her the third piece, we start walking. I’ve refrained from buying her a bed because I want to make sure it’s the right size for her.
She’s got a crate all set up in my apartment. Reading I’ve done tells me that it could make her feel safe in a new environment. It’ll be space that’s just hers. I can understand that. I’ve put a soft blanket and some soft toys in the crate for her, just in case she wants to be in there. We turn a corner to get to the dog beds. They’re along the back wall close to the dry dog food. I stop in my tracks when I see who else is in the store. Stacks of dog food prevented me from seeing his blonde head.
“Well, well, of all the pet stores in all the world, you had to walk into mine,” I say to Eric with a small smile on my face.
He looks over and smiles back. It’s that handsome smile that I haven’t seen in a long time.
“You stole my line,” he replies.
“I did no such thing. What brings you all the way over here?” Artis, now a woman of the world, decides to go over and investigate Eric because she can.
“Supporting local businesses,” he answers. He squats down to allow Artis to sniff him out. “Who’s this pretty girl?
“My new BFF. Her name is Artis. I just picked her up from doggy jail.”
“She’s beautiful,” he says, looking up at me. “Like her new mama.”
“Thank you.” It’s nice of him to say. “So far she’s a sweetheart. She enjoyed her first car ride over here. I’m curious to see how she responds to a ride along the coast.”
That was something Bear absolutely loved. I’m not sure if he loves anything more than a car ride along the coast with his big ol’ head out the window.
“If she’s anything like Bear she’s going to have the time of her life,” he chuckles. “I still take him for a coastal ride every other month.”
“He’s a spoiled boy, isn’t he?”
Artis puts her front paws on Eric’s shoulders and licks his face. Whoa.
“Watch it, girl. You haven’t even taken me on a proper date yet,” he laughs. He gently pushes her down so she can’t lick his face. “Someone has been into the peanut butter treats.”
“Peanut butter is her favorite. Artis, stay down. Eric doesn’t want your peanut butter slobber all over his face.”
“She’s a sweet girl.” He gives her some good scrubs before he stands again. “I think this is good for you. I remember how happy Bear made you when I brought him home.”
“This time around I’m more interested in making a dog happy than I am in making myself happy.” I’m trying to live a less selfish life. I can’t help noticing that Artis is nuzzling against Eric an awful lot. “I think she likes you.”
He bends over to pick her up. She flops in his arms like he’s been holding her like this her whole life. His big hand scratches her chest, making her tongue loll out.
“I think so too,” he laughs. “And it’s important that you make each other happy.”
“I’m sure we will. Geez, Artis, I might have to send you home with your new boyfriend,” I snicker. “At least she’s more petite than Bear and Björn.”
“She’s light as a feather compared to their old butts,” he chuckles. “Maybe you can bring her by the daycare to see me sometime. You can visit Bear.”
“Really?” I’m surprised by his invitation and for good reason. We said we weren’t going to see each other again after that walk on the beach. There was no exchange of phone numbers. I didn’t give him my address. I haven’t looked him up on social media. As far as I know, he hasn’t looked me up either. If he has, there haven’t been any attempts to contact me or get on my friends list.
He shrugs and says, “It’s neutral territory. Bear is getting up there in age and I know it would mean the world to him to see you.”
“I would love to see him too.” He’s always going to be my first baby. “I’ll think about it. I don’t know if it’s good for him if I drop in more often. It seems almost cruel if I get him used to seeing me again, only for me to go away.”
“Think about.” He kisses Artis’ snout before he sets her on the floor again.
“I will. The daycare is still in the same place?”
“Yeah. I’ve actually been able to expand and have a few more employees now.”
I smile and say, “That’s wonderful, Eric.”
“I haven’t been completely lost the last four years,” he says, smiling back at me.
“What? How dare you.”
“I know, I know,” he says, holding his hands out in defense. “I’ve done a few good things for myself.”
“As you should. Well, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing. Artis has to try out dog beds.”
“I’m pretty sure she would be content to sleep in my arms after that display.”
“You offering to let me chop those off?”
“No, ma’am.” There’s that flirty smile again.
The flirty smile worries me. Eric’s a flirt by nature. However, he’s got a girlfriend and I don’t want to go crossing lines we shouldn’t.
“You hear that, Artis? You can’t have him. He’s taken.” I don’t know if I’m saying that for my dog’s benefit or for Eric’s.
“Sorry, girl,” Eric apologizes to my dog. He looks at me again and adds, “You know, there’s one thing we didn’t get the other night…”
I’m afraid to ask but I do anyway. “What’s that?”
“Oh.” I laugh with relief. I’m not sure what I thought he was going to say, but a hug doesn’t seem so bad. I step forward to let him have it, and when I do, Artis lets me know she doesn’t approve.
Still, Eric holds me tight in the best hug I’ve gotten in a long time. He smells good, too. He’s always been a great hugger. I can hardly blame Artis for liking his hugs. I let go first and step back before the hug gets awkward.
“Good to see you again,” I tell him.
“You too, Sookie.” He squats down and Artis pops up on her hind legs to give Eric her own hug. He rubs her back. “Take care of this one, pretty girl,” I hear him say to my dog before he stands up.
“See you around,” I say, despite the fact that I don’t really have plans to see him again. He’s got his life and I’ve got mine. I don’t want to upset him any further than I already have over the last few weeks.
Yet when he turns to walk away, Artis tries to follow him.
“No, no, sweet girl, you’re stuck with me,” I tell her. She stubbornly pulls to go Eric’s way, but I don’t let her. Fortunately, she’s distracted by a noisemaker toy when I give one a squeeze. She turns her head to take the toy, allowing Eric to safely escape.
Or so I think.
When she sees him at the other end of the next aisle, she takes off running and I haven’t got a tight enough grasp of the leash to stop her. Son of a bitch.
I’ve been doing a lot better since having that talk with Sookie on the beach. I didn’t know how bad I needed that closure. That’s why I didn’t have any issues when I ran into her at the pet store. I feel good with how things are if we run into each other again. I’m sure some things will pop up here and there, but I really hope they don’t.
After work on Friday, instead of meeting Sylvie for dinner I take my boys over to see Jake, my best friend since high school. I haven’t told him about seeing Sookie again. As a matter of fact, I’ve only told Sylvie. That should say something, right?
I have a couple steaks along with a couple baker potatoes we can grill. I’m pretty sure I can smell the charcoal heating up when I open the back gate at his place to let the dogs in. He doesn’t have any dogs, but he loves my boys. I hear him greeting the boys before I round the corner. I find him with a beer in hand petting Bear’s head.
“Hey, man,” I say, walking up the steps of his back patio.
“Hey. How’s it going?”
“Not bad. I uh, ran into an old friend recently. If you want to come in and season the steaks with me I’ll tell you about it.”
“Depends on who it is. Sometimes your stories are boring.” Dick.
“Sookie Stackhouse.” As if I know another Sookie.
“Shit. How the hell did that happen?”
“The first time she parked across the street from my house. I heard a car pull up and park, but I didn’t think about it until Bear got out and found his long lost mom.”
“Damn.” Jake follows me into the house. “I would have figured she’s either in prison or dead by now.”
“You know that’s been one of my biggest fears. She’s actually sober,” I smile. I pull the steaks out and place them on the counter.
“That’s good to hear.”
“Yeah. It is. She didn’t stay long that night. She came back a couple days later and she apologized for the way she treated me and for all the shit she put me through. She said me kicking her out was the best thing to happen to her.” I go to his spice cabinet to get some salt and pepper.
“Can’t say I would disagree with that. Do you feel better hearing all that?”
“That night I was pretty pissed. You were there so you know the kind of shit I went through. We stood out on the beach and watched the water together for a good hour before we walked back quietly. When I got home and really thought about it I started to feel better. No matter how bad I had it, she had it worse,” I say.
“Addiction sucks. I’m glad she’s doing better. When she was sober, she was pretty fucking rad.”
“Yes she is,” I agree with a small smile. “I ran into her at the pet store the other day. She just adopted a new dog and I think she likes me more than she likes Sookie.”
He laughs and says, “It’s about time a dog likes you best.”
“Oh, Bear was practically inconsolable when she left the first time. He wanted so badly to go with her.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t try.”
“He did. He jumped in her car and sat there. I had to pick him up and carry him back into the house.”
“Sounds like Bear.”
“Pretty much. I let her walk him on the beach. That was more so for him than it was for her. I think it was good for both of them. Björn is a little unsure about her,” I say. “I think he senses the anxiety she causes me.”
“There’s no reason for you to have anxiety around her at this point, Eric. You’ve got a good life, man. Sylvie’s amazing. Work is good. Don’t let Sookie get to you.”
“Sylvie is better than amazing,” I agree. “That doesn’t take away the fact that Sookie was a huge part of my life and I was very much in love with her for a long time.” Also, as much as I care for Sylvie, I still don’t love her the way I once loved Sookie.
“No one’s saying it does, Eric.”
“I know,” I sigh. “I’ve gotten a lot better since seeing her the first time.”
“Good. Now you know she’s okay. You can put it all behind you for good.”
“Yeah,” I nod. I have no plans to see her anymore. The last time was a fluke. I invited her to the daycare but I don’t expect her to actually come. I was being polite. “Anyway, I started thinking more about moving in with Sylvie.”
“About time. You two are good together. No drama. No bullshit. No carrying her out of a bar because she’s downed an entire bottle of tequila over dinner.”
“Being with Sylvie is seriously living the dream.” But is she too safe?
I never thought about that until Sookie showed up.
“You think she’s The One?”
“There’s the rub,” I say. “I don’t know that she is. She is absolutely perfect on paper. Shit, she’s perfect in real life. I just don’t have the fire I’ve had for girlfriends in the past.” Sookie.
“You mean there’s no chaos?”
“Not even close. There’s hardly any conflict. When I told her Sookie showed up she took me for a drive down the coast to clear my head.”
“Devil,” he hisses and rolls his eyes. “Sounds like a good person to me.”
“Sylvie is a great person. Hell, my mom likes her.” That’s unusual. She hated Sookie. Actually, Sylvie is the first girlfriend she likes.
“No buts,” I shrug. We both know I’m lying.
“Just your lying ass.”
“Fine, there is a but. I just feel like a dick saying it out loud,” I sigh.
He gives me a look as if to say, “Get on with it already.” The circling motion of his hand reinforces the notion.
“There’s no fire with Sylvie,” I say. “I love her and I like spending time with her when we see each other. There’s no real passion, though.”
“That’s a bad thing?”
“Things are going to get stale between us.” I’ve known that’ll be an issue for a while now. That’s something I figured out long before Sookie showed up. “We can spice things up every now and then but eventually one of us is going to be unhappy.”
“One of you will probably have their ex on hold in the back of their mind.”
I don’t like this conversation, but it’s all very true. I hate this so fucking much. I was fine before Sookie showed up. I don’t blame her. She’s doing what she needs to do for recovery, which I’m very proud of. The problem is, I never stopped loving her. I pushed all thoughts of her away when I finally started dating again. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t live in the special place I created for her.
“I hate this. I’m happy Sookie is happy and healthy. I’m pissed my instinct is to go running back to her as fast as I can. I know how good Sylvie is for me.”
“So don’t fall into an old trap. Think about what it could do to derail Sookie’s progress,” he suggests. “If you’re not happy with Sylvie or you really think it’s not going to work, then do the right thing and cut her loose. But for fuck’s sake, think long and hard before you go running back to Sookie.”
“This is why I need to keep you around,” I chuckle. “I will. I’m going to do what I learned to do best and push Sookie out of my mind.”
“You know I hate to sound like fucking Dr. Phil or some shit, but avoiding feelings doesn’t actually make them go away.”
“I just hope the whole out of sight out of mind thing works,” I reply.
He shakes his head and says, “You’re fucked.”
I really need to figure out what I’m doing when it comes to Sookie. They’re my own demons that I need to fight. I don’t need to tell Sookie where my mind is, and if it gets to be bad again I can tell Sylvie. I can also start seeing a therapist full-time again if I can’t work it out. Either way, I can find the help I need if I need to.
“I’ll call my therapist,” I tell him.
“Does that lying shit you do work in therapy? If it does, you need a new therapist.”
“It doesn’t,” I chuckle.
“Maybe it’s time to stop.”
“I know. I don’t like the way it sounds when I say it out loud.”
“The way what sounds?”
“That I think I still love Sookie even though Sylvie is the perfect woman in just about every way.”
“Not being honest about it isn’t fair to any of you.”
“Have you ever thought about being a therapist?” I joke.
“Fuuuuuuuuck that,” he laughs.
I smile and finally start preparing the steaks. There’s a lot that happened quickly. Before I take any action one way or another I need to talk to my therapist, and I need to reevaluate all of it. I’ve gotten myself into too many messes by making quick, not very well thought out decisions. This isn’t going to be one of those mistakes.