Dog Walking

By tarotgal

Rating: G


     His arm was bent and draped over his face to hide his blue eyes from the lit living room. It was easier than getting up and turning them all off. He did not need to close the drapes to block out light, as the thick grey storm clouds were doing a good job of that already. He groaned and winced. "Oh, Skib! You really dod't wadt to go out dow!"


     Skip begged to differ. He whined and scratched anxiously at the door. Then he began to bark in a way that was impossible to ignore, especially as it was continuous. The dog then began slamming against the wall on one side.


     "All right!" Alex relented. Stretched out on his back on the couch, he now sat up and threw off his blanket with a sigh. Running his hand through short waves of dirty blond hair to be sure he was presentable, he hoped the walk would be short and he wouldn't run into anyone he knew. He dug around among the balled-up tissues littering the coffee table until he found the retractable leash. Sniffling, he stuffed a few tissues into his pockets and then stood. His head swam and if not for the incessant, sharp barking he would have been back on the couch in an instant.


     But he made his way over to the door, moving slowly. Skip, a wheaten-colored border terrier, sat down and silenced instantly at the sight of his leash. "Yeah, you're quiet dow that you're gettig your way." As soon as the leash was fastened on, Skip resumed with his barking and scratching at the door as though trying to burrow his way right through the wood.


     "Okay, okay. We're going," Alex tried to reassure his dog as he moved back from the door and pulled it open. Skip bolted into the corridor. Alex hung back a moment, locking the leash at a short length so Skip could not get far. Skip tried, however, pulling and straining at the end of the leash. "Just let be get by ub-" Alex barely had a chance to grab hold of an umbrella before the dog pulled him out of the apartment.


     Skip excitedly pulled him down the two flights of stairs as Alex fumbled with the umbrella and his keys. As it was the middle of a workday, he was certain most people in the building were out and could not be disturbed with Skip's anxious whining and his stumbling down stair by stair until they reached the landing which was just inside the building.


     From the look of things, rain was pouring down heavily in buckets. Thunder sounded in the distance and everything outside seemed a bit dimmer than usual. This was easy to spot from his current location as someone had gone and left the door to the building wide open. The high winds blew the rain in, drenching the welcome mat and spraying the steel mailboxes on the wall. Staring down the rain, Alex pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up and pushed his umbrella open. Then he let Skip pull him out into the storm and he pulled the apartment building's door closed behind him.


     The dog raced happily down the stairs from the building and into the grass between the sidewalk and street. Skip flopped onto his stomach, sliding a few feet in the wet grass as though it were a slide. Then he turned his face up to Alex and smiled with his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. "You're a stubid dog," Alex said in a kind voice. "Cad't you see it's radig out here?"


     Skip noticed, but did not seem to care. He raced around, pulling Alex down the city street eagerly. He marked a hydrant, then a parking meter, and sniffed every lamppost he could find to sniff. He tried marking a few, but had nothing left within him with which to do so.


     Though Alex was sniffing, too, it was for a much different reason. He smiled, however, to see how excited Skip was to be out on a walk in the middle of the day. Alex mainly tried to keep up and keep out of the rain. Even with the umbrella overhead, the wind blew rain at him from all directions. And it did not take long for the cool, crisp autumn temperatures to get to him, either. His sniffles developed quickly into tickles, and tickles into sneezes.


     "hihhhSchhh! hehhKshhhh!" With the dog leash still in hand, he just managed to pull a tissue out of his pocket and get it to his face. He blew his nose one-handed and rubbed it as dry as he could, even with the rain spitting at him around the cover of the umbrella.


     But as they continued down the block, the wind picked up and stung Alex's face. His nose ran even more, and the tissues he had with him were quickly outliving their usefulness. If not used to head off a sniffle, they were soaked with rain that Alex had not been able to avoid completely. Skip seemed blissfully unaware of his master's struggles, taking time out to sniff the ground and nearly everything else he came across.


     Alex shivered terribly as another gust of wind hit him in the face. His nose tickled and, losing patience, he buried his nose in the crook of his arm. "hih... hehhh-KSHhhhhh!" He sneezed. It tossed him forward unsteadily, but also made him lower his guard for all the time that was needed for disaster to strike. The wind picked that time to catch hold of his umbrella and pull it out of his hand. The freezing cold rain hit him straight in the face. Skip tugged at the leash with a hard jerk, causing it to jump out of Alex's grasp.


     Wet, worried, and still sniffling, Alex stumbled forward and nearly ran right into a woman who had suddenly appeared before him. "Here," she said, extending her umbrella over his head and then handing the end of the leash over to him.


     He blinked, his face dripping wet. "Thanks... ah..." A large brown labradoodle jumped up against him, large paws pressing against his chest and a huge pink tongue hanging from one corner of its mouth. "Bedder's Bobby. Hey, look Skib! It's your fried Bedder!"


     The woman, with auburn hair and dark brown eyes, smiled back at him. "Laura," she said, tugging on her dog's leash to get him to leave Alex alone. Skip was trying to get the other dog's attention as well. "Come on, get down, Bender. You're going to get him all wet."


     "It's all right," Alex said, his cold hand sliding against the thick, curly brown fur. Realizing he didn't have a treat, Bender jumped down and began to play with Skip. They bounced around and lunged at each other. "I'b already... wet..." He cupped his free hand to his nose and mouth as he felt another sneeze coming on. He turned his head and saw his umbrella in bad shape pinned between a dumpster and the side of an apartment building. He did not have much time to admire it, however. "hehhh-hihh-KSCHhhhhhh!" Speaking of wet, he cringed to remember he did not have anything to wipe his nose dry with, especially not out in the pouring rain. So he rubbed the back of his hand against his nose and mumbled an apology.


     Laura, however, had barely taken notice. While Alex had had his guard down again, Skip had decided to run circles around them all, finally ending up tangled up in his leash. Though balancing the umbrella and her own dog's leash, Laura had nonetheless tried to untangle him. Alex joined in, squatting down and moving his end of the leash around the small, sopping wet, furry terrier body. Just as he managed to get it straightened out, a large SUV sped past and sprayed them both with water. Laura gave a short and startled shriek, but she laughed a few moments later. Despite the umbrellas, they had already been rather wet. The only thing her umbrella was much good for was keeping rain out of their faces.


     As though sensing their owners' weaknesses, the dogs had instantly stopped playing and gone straight into begging mode. They jumped on Alex and Laura in turn, trying their best to look sweet and cute to elicit treats. In his condition, Alex had forgotten to bring some along, though they most likely would have been lost in his tissue-filled pockets anyway. As she gave both the dogs a few, Alex ducked under her umbrella and headed over to his own. The navy blue umbrella was bent in awkward ways, and would not close for him, much as he tried to make it do so. So he pitched the whole thing into the dumpster with a sigh and then returned. The dogs were still all over Laura.


     "Skib," Alex said, giving the leash a little jerk to get Skip's attention. "Cub od. Leave her alode. She already gave you subthig to..." His face fell again. "Subthig to eat." He turned and quickly cupped a hand to his face. "ehhh-HITSchhhhhh! Huhhh... hihhh-IHSchhhhhhh!" Alex groaned and wiped his nose on his hand and his damp sleeve to no avail.


     "So," she called, over the storm. "I don't usually see you out in the afternoons. Are..." she stopped abruptly, closing her eyes tightly as a gust of wind slammed them with rain. Almost impossibly, the storm seemed to get worse. The rain was fast and heavy, coming down in sheets. The wind practically stung them. Cars on the street pulled over, unable to see well enough to drive. Pedestrians on the sidewalks dove into doorways wherever possible. Even the dogs had calmed down in the face of it.


     Unable to stand out there any longer, the four of them quickly made their way over to the entryway of a building, shutting the door behind them to keep out the rain. "Ugh! I'm soaking!" Laura complained laughingly.


     Alex nodded in agreement, looking past her to the mailboxes. "This is where I live," he said softly, suddenly realizing the fact more slowly than it should have taken him. "Would you like to go ub? I've got sub warb clothes you could chadge idto, add I have a lot of tea."


     She took a few moments to consider, but then smiled and nodded. He led her upstairs to his place, trying not to get tripped up by the dogs who, now out of the weather, had resumed their play around their masters' ankles. Alex's hands were cold as he fumbled with his keys and finally was granted entry to his place. He stepped inside and the sight of the middle of the living room caught his eye. "Oh God!" He groaned at the sea of used tissues covering everything in sight. Immediately he undid Skip's leash from the dog's collar. Then he raced right over, gathering up the blankets and shoving the balled up tissues into a pile he then scooped up. "I'b so sorry. I've got a cold add--"


     "I noticed that," she said, holding onto her dog with a short leash so Bender wouldn't destroy everything. He was trying, however, bouncing about and trying to get away as best he could. "I don't mind. Ah... Bender!" The chocolate brown dog was straining to get away and explore his new environment.


     Quite relieved at how she was trying to miss looking directly at the mess, Alex cleared it away for the most part. "You cad, ah, let hib loose if you like. Dothig he cad destroy. Add thed he add Skib cad blay." It was certainly easier for the dogs to play without their leashes, which kept getting in the way and choking them. Alex stuffed the tissues into the trashcan in the kitchen, then leaned against one of the counters, attempting and failing to catch his breath. "hehhhhShuhhh! hehhhKAHshhhhhhh!" He sniffed and turned to quickly wash his hands at the sink. "I'b so sorry about the sdeezes."


     "It's all right, really," she said, truly sounding as though she didn't mind. "And it explains what you're doing walking Skip at this time of day, doesn't it?"


     He nodded, giving her a weak smile. It was the first day off from work he'd taken in years. "I hab sub sweats add thigs id by closet add socks id the second drawer. Helb yourself. I cad throw your thigs idto the dryer for a quick cycle if you like. I'll get the tea ready while you chadge."


     "That would be nice. Thanks." She ducked into the bedroom, closing and locking the door behind her. Alex quickly put a kettle of water on the stove and got out mugs for tea.


     Laura emerged before he finished, wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt and sporting a towel around her shoulders. "Hey, ah, Skip's Daddy," she called.


     "Alex," he told her, smiling. "Alex Bedsod." He sniffed hard, looking annoyed at his stuffy nose which prevented him from saying his own name properly.


     "Alex Benson?" she repeated to be sure she'd understood, and he nodded in agreement. "Well then, Alex Benson, I brought you a dry sweatshirt and a towel. Won't do to have you sick and chilled as well, will it?"


     He shook his head and stripped his shirt off. She tossed over the dry one then, as she walked over to him, handed him the towel. Alex thanked her and dried his hair, which looked darker when it was wet. But he stopped halfway through, his face falling. "huh..." He announced, hoping his breathing would serve as a warning. "huhhhh-Chishphhhhh!" He sneezed into the towel, which was the only thing he had at hand. "hehhh-Shphhhhhh! Umshphhhhh!" He sighed, leaning back against the counter and closing his eyes.


     "Bless you." Laura looked at him sympathetically. "Maybe you should let me finish making the tea. You should go sit down and rest."


     He started to protest, but she took him by the arm and guided him over to the couch to sit. Once there, he pulled his legs up, folding them beneath him, and leaned his head against the back of the couch with a sigh. He definitely preferred being inside to being outside in the rain at the moment. He closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the tea being made, of the dryer whirring, and of the dogs jumping around and playing with each other.


     The moment of rest, however, was short-lived. Seconds later, he opened his eyes and reached for the tissues from the box still on the coffee table. "huhh..." His nose was still running from the cold outside, but he was sure he would have been sneezing anyway. "hehhhSHuhhhh! huhhhKSChhhhhhh!" Bent forward a bit, he opened his eyes and looked over the tissues to see Laura's back. She was, again, respectfully and subtly ignoring him. Relieved, he wiped his nose dry and balled the tissue up, sticking it in his pocket.


     "The tea's ready," she said, turning around when he had finished. She crossed the room and sat down on the couch with a proper amount of distance between them.


     Alex took a cup of tea from her and took a sip, smiling. "Thags." He shivered as he drank and Laura eyed him. "Sorry. It's good, really. I'b just a little chilly still."


     She smiled at him over the rim of her cup. "May I ask you what you were doing out on a rainy day like today when you're sick?"


     As though on cue, Skip jumped up onto the couch between them and barked. Alex pointed his way and Laura laughed.


     "Well, you know I'd be happy to walk him until you feel better. Just give me a call."


     "Really?" he said, partly in a sigh of relief and partly with great excitement. "I'b feelig a little better thad I did this bordig whed I called idto work sick, but I defidetly abbreciate it."


     "Least I can do to repay you for getting warm and dry for a few minutes. It's really coming down out there." She looked around and stopped when she saw her dog stretched out on the floor behind the couch, looking exhausted at the moment. "Not to mention tiring Bender out. I thought that was practically impossible!" They both laughed a little. Then Laura continued, "But, really, thank you for the tea and a chance to warm up and dry off. I know you're not feeling so hot, so I do appreciate it."


     Alex finished his tea in a few more gulps. "It was dothing. Adyode would have asked you id out of that raid. I'b just sorry this blace is so bessy."


     "Not so messy," she said, laughing and shaking her head. "It's what I'd expect from you and Skip. Looks like a typical bachelor pad." Then, quickly, "Ah... assuming you're both bachelors." Nervously, she petted Skip's head and scratched behind his ear.


     "Well, I dod't dow about Skib but I'b defiditely a bachelor... add..." He grabbed a few tissues from the box on the coffee table, cupped them over his face, and turned away from her. "ehhh-Himphhh! heh-EH-Shmmphhh! ehh-KShmphh!" He sighed in frustration and closed his eyes as he wiped his nose dry. It was no wonder he was single at the moment, with how he looked and sounded.


     Mercifully, the dryer buzzed at that moment. Laura smiled sympathetically at him. "I think I'd better get going, though. You look like you want to go back to stretching out on the couch and feeling miserable again."


     He forced a chuckle, but gave her a sheepish nod. Truth was that he really needed to blow his nose and she definitely didn't need to hear that. And now that Skip had been out, he was looking forward to a good, long nap.


     Laura changed back in the bathroom and then rounded up Bender. He did not much like the idea of having his leash put back on, but the promise of a biscuit made him sit obediently. He kept his eyes trained on Skip, who had jumped up onto the back of the couch. Once his leash was back on and he'd had his treat, Bender leapt back over with a playful bark and a wagging tail. Skip barked back, his own short tail wagging as though they hadn't seen each other in ages.


     Laura laughed and tugged on the leash, easing him back to her side. "Don't hesitate to call me if you need a break from walking Skip," she reminded him as he walked her to the door to see her out. "And thanks again. See you around, Skip's Daddy." She gave him a sweet goodbye smile then pulled Bender out of the apartment. The moment the dog was out, he took a look at the hallway, then happily bounded down it.


     "See you aroud, Bedder," Alex said, waving down the hallway at the overly excited puppy. "Add Bedder's Bobby." Self-conscious of his stuffy nose, he rubbed it with a tissue he had balled-up in his hand. "Ah, Laura." She nodded approvingly.


     When he'd shut the door behind her, he veered over to where he'd stashed the blankets. Exhausted, he barely reached the couch before he collapsed. Alex coughed from congestion and grabbed a handful of fresh tissues, dropping his used ones onto the coffee table beside the box again. "ehhh-Shuhhh! hehhhShehhhh!"


     Even though he was no longer out in the rain and even though he'd changed into a dryer shirt, he still felt cold and damp. He pulled the blankets around himself and blew his nose repeatedly. Then, lying face-down on the couch, he closed his eyes, hoping to quickly pass out now.


     A few seconds later, Skip ran to the door, barking. The doorbell rang which only increased Skip's barking. Alex groaned deeply and sniffled, debating whether or not to get up to answer the door. When he decided on not, there was a knock on the door and Skip went crazy at that sound. "All right!" Alex called. He pushed himself up and practically rolled off the couch along with the blankets. Pulling one of them around his shoulders, he headed to the door.


     Skip sounded vicious and was terribly loud, but he thought he heard another dog barking as well. Alex opened the door and raised his eyebrows. "Laura?"


     Smiling, she forced a slip of paper into his hand. "Forgot to give you my number. Hard to call me to walk Skip if you don't have my number." She gave him a quick peck his cheek. "Feel better, Alex." Then she quickly turned and headed back down the hallway.


     Smiling, Alex moved his foot to block Skip from running out, then he closed the door and locked it again. He returned to the couch, burrowing beneath the blankets. Alex slid the phone number beneath a couch cushion to keep it safe, grabbed a few more tissues just in case, and then allowed himself to fall asleep for as long as he possibly could. With luck, Skip would need to go out again that evening and he'd be feeling a little better.