I can so too write romance.
by Marian Allen
Joseph tugged the leash–a gentle tug, a hint, not an enforcement–and Dutch came to heel. A few more steps, another tug. Steps. Tug.
“Just a minute, Mindy.” Joseph stopped at the corner and tucked his cell phone against his sweat shirt. He regarded his dog with curiosity and disfavor.
The dog, an Austrian Alpine Shepherd, was a long-legged, barrel-chested, floppy-eared, big-eyed, salt-and-pepper Grand Champion, a gift from Mindy, Joseph’s step-mother. She had wanted Joseph to call him Prince. Joseph called him Dutch.
He hadn’t wanted the dog, but he and his step-mother were finally making an effort to get along after years of mutual aversion, and he couldn’t reject her obviously well-intentioned canine olive branch.
Now he was stuck with this dog, this responsibility, this living being shoved into his life, this dependent he had to deal with. Not unlike Mindy being stuck with me, he thought, for the first time.
The several-times-daily walks had become tiresome, then pleasant, then routine.
Until this morning.
He put the phone back to his ear.
“Something’s up with Dutch. He keeps hanging back. No, I’m not walking too fast. No, he doesn’t seem to want to go home. He just doesn’t want to follow our regular route. He’s bored? That’s–” he bit his tongue before the word “stupid” slid off it and substituted “–interesting. Okay. Well, see you this evening, then. Six-thirty at La Cucina. You, me and Dad. Sure, okay, I know I can bring a date. Bye.”
Bring a date. As if he would be dating again less than a year after breaking up with Tanya. Tanya, who was perfect, as far as he was concerned. Tanya, who was so perfect, he couldn’t believe she loved him. She had refused to speak to him after his last jealous outburst–just took off the engagement ring and walked away. She had even moved out of the apartment across the hall from his and changed her phone number.
But Mindy wouldn’t have known about any of that. Tanya had come and gone in the days when Joseph and Mindy were barely speaking. The two women had only met once or twice. He had moved, himself, since then, and had changed his own number. He wished, now, he hadn’t burned those bridges, but it was too late to undo.
Joseph continued his walk with Dutch. Again, Dutch hung back. Joseph stopped.
“Okay,” he said, after exchanging a long stare with the dog. “How do you like this direction?” He crossed the street. Dutch trotted along without urging. They followed an unfamiliar avenue, crossed again, went another block and turned a corner. If Dutch resisted, Joseph tried again until he found the one the dog liked.
He couldn’t believe it was happening. Dutch was absolutely leading him somewhere, in a sort of passive-aggressive way.
And there was Tanya’s little blue Jetta in the driveway of a duplex townhouse, there were her signature moss rose plants in red clay pots lining half of the porch.
What if she saw him? What if she thought he was stalking her?
A second-floor window slammed open. Unseen hands clawed the screen insert away and Tanya leaned out.
“It’s you! You came!”
The window slammed shut.
Joseph froze in place, Dutch a warm statue at his side.
Tanya burst out of the door. She seemed to take the space between the doorway to the sidewalk in one flying leap.
“She said she wouldn’t tell you! I ran into her outside La Cucina one day, and I thought I could find you through her, but she said I had hurt you enough. She said I’d just have to hope things would work out for me. But she told you, after all! I love you so much! I missed you so much!”
The only woman he could ever love threw her arms around his neck.
After a long, wordless hug, she pulled away and sniffed back more tears.
Dutch gave a happy whimper, and she seemed to see him for the first time. She squatted and ruffled his ears.
“What on earth are you doing with Prince? The ladies in the other half of this duplex are in some kind of animal rescue society, sort of foster moms for dogs until somebody adopts them. I used to talk to Prince all the time, didn’t I boy? Didn’t I? As a matter of fact, I was walking him for them when I ran into Mindy. And now the two of you turn up together. How did that happen?”
“He was a gift,” Joseph said, dizzy from the sudden inrush of joy. “A gift, from my fairy step-mother.”
WRITING PROMPT: Give a character a gift from an unexpected source.