Monday, March 14, 2016

The Gift

The house was smaller than I'd pictured. It sat shabby, quaint with broad dirty white planks butted up against rusty red brick. The shutters pressed snugly along the windows as if to protect them from curious eyes. I hovered on the porch. Staring at the peeled paint as if it were a masterpiece.

I could turn away. Be across town before anyone knew I'd made this trek. It wasn't as if I were expected...or even invited. But it was a long trip to give in to cold feet.

Raised fist. Sweaty brow. Don't let the fear show.

"What are you doing here?"

I opened my eyes, fist still suspended awkwardly in the air. Scan his face. Is it welcoming? Filled with rejection? Why is he so hard to read?

He stared at me with hard blue eyes. White hair framed his face. Darker gray whiskers sprouted wildly from his chin. Time had kissed him roughly, but the boyish glint lingered in the corners of his mouth. Welcoming then.

I grinned broadly, "Gonna leave me on your doorstep, Mister?" He looked over his shoulder and my pulse raced. "I can come back later if this is a bad time?" Please, please don't turn me away... He smiled slowly. I've thrown him for a loop, but he was catching up at record speed. He was always so damn smart. He turned on his heel, leaving me to trail behind.

The room was dark and sparsely decorated. "What  can I do for you, Pet?" The pang was instant. Familiar, raw, yet so long lost. Was it his voice? The use of my old nickname? I cleared my throat. "I brought you something." I reached inside my coat and pulled the wiggly thing out. A tiny puppy with long floppy ears raised his nose to lick my cheek and I smiled. One more snuggle. One last stroke of his ear. I handed him over. "He doesn't have a name yet. I knew you'd think of something amazing."

The puppy nipped at his fingers. Long, tapered fingers that scratched at the puppy's soft fur absently. "I don't want a dog," he frowned. I grinned at him and sat down on the arm of his couch. "Sure ya do. He's a sweetheart and he'll keep you outta trouble."  I shrugged. "Everyone wants a dog."

He set the puppy down and went to fetch a bowl of water. I heard him shuffling in the kitchen. "I really don't want a dog," he called. "You know that. So why bring him?" I waited till he returned with the water. Then smiled kindly, "What we want and what we need are very different things. You need a hobby. He needs a home. Win, win."

He eyed me skeptically, "So this is the only reason you came. To bring me an unwanted dog?" My smile wavered for a second. No. Yes. I have no idea.  "I  just wanted to say hi. See how you were fairing. And then I crossed paths with this little guy and figured it was fate." The puppy went on a room sniffing adventure. Perhaps I should've brought a toy for him.

He looked at me again with those intense eyes. The distance in them daunting. And deserved.

The puppy toddled up and gnawed on his pant leg. He scooped him up with strong hands. "What can you be after there mongrel?" The puppy panted. Licked him and panted some more. I fished a slip of paper from my pocket and set it on the end table. "This is the hotel I'm staying at if you want to reach me." I stood and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. He smelled like wine and bacon and soap. "I'll leave you two to get acquainted."  I paused with my hand on the doorknob. Ask me to stay...ask me. He said nothing as I pulled the door open. I looked at him once more. Taking in his glorious face and the randy puppy pawing to get down. "It was good to see you, Jimmy. Really good."

Crisp, cool air and brightly colored leaves swept across the sidewalk. I walked away briskly humming, "Englishman in New York."

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