Paul finds the dog in the woods, at the edge of the river, not far from the waterfall that cascades down the side of the mountain. The murky water has veins of red running through it from the dog's blood. The animal is too big for him to carry on his own, so he fetches the sled from the house. He half expects the dog to have passed by the time he gets back, but when he lays a hand on its chest there is still lingering warmth in its skin and he can feel a faint rise and fall from its labored breathing. The dog's mass fills the sled. It's the size of a small pony, with thick, shaggy black hair matted into clumps around the wound.
Their stable is empty of horses - has been for years - so he puts the dog there. He lines one of the stalls with old blankets and places the dog gently upon them. It's a little chilly. Fall has yet to come into its own yet, but there's still enough of a chill in the air that he feels the need to fetch a space heater from the closet and plug it in.
Once the dog is settled, he fetches a pail of water, rags, and their first aid kit. He's not very good with this sort of thing - caring for living things - but he tries his best. The least he can do is clean the wound, put some salve on it, and wrap it as good as possible.
He doesn't expect the dog to survive the night, but at least he tried.
The dog does survive. The wound looks better in the morning light, and when Paul offers the dog bits of sausage from breakfast, he wolfs it down.
He spends his day in the stable, sitting on the blankets next to the dog's head with his laptop propped on one knee. He gets a decent bit of writing done, even if he's typing one handed. His other hand cards through the thick fur on the dog's neck. The animal seems to take some comfort from his presence.
It doesn't seem wild. It doesn't try to bite him. It doesn't try to get away. If anything, it pushes into his hand after the first few tentative pets that the dog hadn't seemed sure if it would accept. There's no collar, and no one else lives this deep in the woods.
Maybe it got lost. Maybe its owner died. He's not sure. He would take it to the vet to see if it's chipped but doesn't think moving it would be a good idea.
He should make posters and put them around town, in case the dog does belong to someone. When he finally gets up, both of their stomachs are rumbling. He makes steaks and salad for lunch. The dog gets a steak of its own and part of Paul's as well. Paul's wife doesn't eat meat so it's nice to have someone else that appreciates it.
He pulls himself away from the stables when the natural light is gone. They're illuminated only by the glare of his computer screen. He should sleep, but he doesn't want to go far in case the dog needs anything.
He falls asleep in the pile of blankets. Sometime during the night, he curls into the dog's warmth or the dog curls into his. He's not sure.
He never makes the posters.
Sarah finds him in the stables the next day. She arrives home shortly after noon, her entrance noted by the usual bluster and explosion of luggage. Sarah is not quiet, no matter what she does.
The front door bangs loud enough that Paul can hear it from the stables. He puts a reassuring hand on the dog's head, briefly tightens his fingers in the dog's fur before scratching behind its ears. He doesn't hear her luggage drop but his brain fills in the sound from much previous experience. Her high heels rebound off the wall, but she somehow still manages to make too much noise stomping her way around the house.
She flings open the door to the stables after about fifteen minutes and stares at him. She looks like an angel, framed in the light from the kitchen.
"What are you doing out here?"
His right hand continues to pet the dog. It doesn't even growl, just looks at her from where its head rests on his leg. The laptop is shoved even further to the side than it started the first day. He's thinking of getting a lap desk to work around the lack of space in his actual lap.
He tilts his head to the right. "I found a dog."
She steps further into the stable. His grandfather kept actual horses there, but his father hadn't felt the need and then he'd moved to the city. When Paul took over the house he was surprised how well kept everything was. They use the stable for storage. This is the first time in a generation that an actual animal has been in there.
"So I see. Where did you find the dog?"
"By the river."
"And you decided to bring it home?"
He shrugs and sets his laptop aside. "It was hurt."
She takes a few steps forward, peering over the edge of the stable. Her eyes take in the breadth of the dog. It's a sizeable monster. "You know black dogs are supposed to be bad luck right? Omens of death? Bringers of misfortune?"
He shrugs again. He knows his history, though fantasy isn't really his genre. "It's just a dog." He glances down at it, at the calmness that belies its size. "How was London?"
Sarah purses her lips and stares up at the ceiling, searching for the right words. "Busy," she says finally. "But filming's done so I've got a few days at home."
It's a given that Sarah will never be home long. Paul's gotten used to it, though it wasn't a hard thing to get accustomed to. He's always been a solitary creature and Sarah has always been a traveler. They make it work.
"Where to next?"
"Los Angeles, then India, I think."
"Take lots of pictures for me." He always says that when she's going somewhere new. She has a talent for it, always able to capture the heart of a location. If she weren't an actress, she would have probably done well working for National Geographic or the like.
"I will." Sarah steps around the stable wall and stretches out a hand. "Come to bed?"
He tucks his laptop under his arm and lets her pull him to his feet. They smile at each other and share a quick kiss. It's more affectionate than passionate, but the passion will come later. He casts a backward glance at the dog. The heater's on and there's a blanket over it. It will be okay without him for a little while.
When he comes into the stable the next morning, the dog is gone.
Loneliness sneaks up on him like it never has before. He thinks briefly of getting a dog, even goes so far as to look at pictures of the ones at the SPCA in the next town over. He texts Sarah about it as he's sitting in the town's only coffee shop two months later. The shop don't have Wi-Fi, but he doesn't need it. The internet is just a distraction, and he's not really working anyways. He just needs the noise of other people.
A shadow falls over his table and he looks up. "Is this seat taken?"
Paul shakes his head. He looks around at the shop, surprised to find all the other tables filled. He doesn't have to force a smile, not when the gentlemen standing across from him looks like he belongs on the movie screen next to Sarah. "No. Go ahead."
The man smiles as he takes a seat and unfolds a newspaper from where it'd been tucked under his arm. He barely gives Paul a second glance as he sips at his coffee and reads. Paul can't help but stare. Their town isn't large and Paul would have sworn he knew everyone on sight. There's less than a thousand people, including the outlying farms. He went to high school with most of the ones his age, so the fact that he doesn't recognize this man strikes him as odd.
"Passing through?" He asks, though he feels instantly bad for prying.
The man doesn't seem to mind. He's still smiling. He glances away from his paper and meets Paul's stare. His eyes are pale blue, reminding Paul of a frozen lake. He shivers as a chill passes over him. "I'm here for a few days."
Paul nods. He glances down at his laptop and the open Word document in front of him. It's incriminatingly blank. "Staying with relatives?"
The man shakes his head. A lock of black hair falls in his face, partially obscuring one eye. "I haven't figured out where to stay yet."
There is no motel in town. They've never needed one. There is one in Angola, a half hour away. He opens his mouth to offer directions, but that's not what comes out. "I've got a spare room if you need."
The man's eyes seem to shine for a moment. Probably just the sun peeking out from behind a cloud. "That would be very kind of you."
"It's no problem," he says, even though he should be making excuses and telling the man no. For all he knows, the man's a travelling serial killer. Sarah's gone for another two months. He misses the dog.
The man introduces himself as Jack and follows Paul back to his house in the woods in a beat-up red pickup truck. Jack sits on the couch with him, reading while Paul watches a movie Sarah made three years ago on cable. Jack is gone in the morning and back for dinner. He complements Paul's cooking, even though it's simplistic.
After four days, Jack leaves as the sun sets. Paul misses Jack's quiet company instantly.
When he drives in town to the coffee shop the next morning, the town's abuzz with the news of old woman Josie's passing. Paul crosses himself when he hears the news and nods along with the barista saying that she passed quietly in the night. There are worse ways to go.
There is no pattern to when Jack comes and goes. He doesn't visit often and never when Sarah's home.
The third time Jack visits, he meets Bentley. Bentley is an exuberant pup, prone to jump on anyone and anything that crosses his path, as if too excited to offer them a proper hug. He doesn't jump on Jack, but rather sits at attention by the door, waiting before the first knock. Paul stares at the dog as he answers the door, and is surprised and pleased to find Jack on the other side. Jack smiles at him and offers a quick clap on the shoulder before he bends down next to Bentley.
"Who is this fine fellow?"
Bentley's tail swings like a pendulum across the floor and his tongue hangs out, but that's the only sign of his exuberance. "His name's Bentley."
Jack scratches Bentley on the head. Seconds later, Bentley's running circles around the kitchen. Bentley's initial patience is out of character. He doesn't know what to make of it, but the strangeness is forgotten as Jack pulls a six-pack of craft beer out of his bag. They sit on the couch with Bentley between them, sipping beer and watching the Blu-ray release of the most recent of Sarah's movies.
Paul watches Sarah on the screen, his eyes fixed on her perfect face while his hand strokes Bentley's fur. Jack's hand brushes against his every now and then as they both pet the dog. Paul doesn’t pull away and neither does Jack.
When Jack leaves in the morning, he presses a soft, chase kiss to Paul's lips, leaving Paul stunned in the doorframe as Jack drives away.
There's an accident on the freeway two hours later. Seven dead, many more injured. Paul presses his hand to his lips as he watches the news report and thinks back to what Sarah had said about black dogs and misfortune.
Paul tells Sarah about Jack. He'd mentioned the visits before, but now he goes into detail. She sneaks away to her trailer, locks the door, and demands over Skype that he tell her everything about the kiss. He doesn't hold back. He never has, nor has he ever needed to. In return she tells him about the cute caterer Lyndsey that Sarah's in the midst of hooking up with.
Their marriage has never been a typical one, and all the time they spend apart required a few exceptions to the normal rules.
When Jack shows up next, he greets Paul with a kiss and Bentley with an enthusiastic scratch behind the ears.
They don't stop at kissing. What started as a simple brush of lips against lips turned into twining tongues then groping hands, evolving until Paul finds himself spread out on his bed – the bed he shared with his wife, when she was home – writhing under Jack's hands. It's like Jack knows exactly where to touch him, like he knows Paul intimately, can see through him all the way to his core.
There are fingers inside of him. He's a fan of Jack's fingers, long and thin, slightly boney but the ridges of Jack's knuckles feel good inside of him. Jack crooks his fingers as he drags them in and out. It's enough to make Paul want to scream but he can't. For a writer, he's found himself in the strange position of being at a loss for words. It's been so long since someone other than Sarah has been inside of him, and even that has been a while. He's been forced to be content with his own hand and the occasional toy and now, having the real thing, feels like being starved for water and finding a lake in the middle of a desert.
Jack slides inside of him like he belongs there, and after all this time, after all their visits, Paul thinks maybe he does. It's strange to feel that way about someone other than Sarah. He doesn't do flings, not very well, and this is more than a fling.
Paul's nails dig crescents into Jack's back. He stares up at the ceiling and he knows with absolute certainty that Jack is coming back. Jack will keep coming back and at some point he should introduce Jack to Sarah.
He wonders what Jack would think of Sarah. He closes his eyes and pictures them from the outside, pictures the way Jack's hands grip Paul's hips, holding him up without effort. He pictures the rhythm of Jack's hips, the way his back undulates as he thrusts in, fucking into Paul slow and steady and relentless.
He pictures what Sarah would look like in his place and it's almost enough to make him come.
He opens his eyes with a gasp. Jack is smirking down at him. The knowing look on his face makes Paul wonder if Jack knew what Paul was thinking.
The front door opens. Paul can hear it over their panted breaths. There's the sound of luggage being dropped and shoes hitting the wall as they're kicked off. Jack slows but doesn't stop. Paul's fingers dig into Jack's arms, though he's not sure whether he's clutching Jack close or clutching in fear. There's nothing to be afraid of, but the response is instinctive.
Sarah nudges the bedroom door the rest of the way open from where it'd been cracked. She smirks, her expression much like Jack's as she leans against the doorjamb and watches them. "Don't stop on my account."
Jack looks over his shoulder at her, grins widely, and then thrusts his hips forward hard. Paul has to hold on to keep from sliding up the bed and hitting his head on the headboard. Whatever restraint Jack had held earlier is gone now and he fucks into Paul with abandon, as if Sarah's approval or maybe the mere addition of an audience goaded him on.
All Paul can do is hold on and enjoy the ride, and he does. He enjoys it immensely. He moans, the sound coming too loud in the relative quiet of the bedroom. He blushes. He can't help it, not when he turns his head and meets Sarah's eyes. She watches him watch her and Paul's moans seem even more lewd echoed in her presence.
Sarah smiles and nods once and that's all it takes to make him come. Jack keeps going, pushing in for another minute, burning pleasure into Paul's veins and digging finger-shaped bruises into his hips. He's going to feel that ache for days.
Jack pulls out and sits back on his heels, leaving Paul splayed like a starfish on the bed. His stomach is spattered with his own come and his limbs feel too heavy to move. Jack's still half-hard and there's no way that's natural but Paul's had suspicions about Jack and nature for months.
"Well, that was quite the show," Sarah says as she finally steps into the bedroom. She slides her jacket off her shoulders and tosses it towards the closet. It lands nearby but not quite in the laundry basket. "Is this your Grim?"
Jack performs an odd sort of nod-bow combination. "Pleasure to finally meet you."
Sarah's fingers expertly pop the buttons of her blouse free from their holes. She has long, thin fingers too, a lot like Jack's. "Trust me, the pleasure's all mine."
"I think the pleasure's been shared," Jack says. Paul feels like he should maybe get a word in edgewise but his brain isn't up to words yet. He's always been ineloquent post mind-blowing orgasm.
"Not yet." Sarah's blouse joins her jacket and the bra she has on – black lace that's more than a little see-through – is almost enough to get Paul hard again. Almost.
Jack looks down at him and raises his eyebrow. Paul shrugs in response. He's never been the one with power in the relationship.
Sarah's pants hit the floor. Her underwear matches. "Are you planning to stay for a while this time?"
"A few days." Paul's heart skips a beat at the words and he can't help but smile.
"Good." She puts one knee on the bed next to Paul's chest and swings the other over until she's sitting on his chest. Her panties are likely getting wet from his come.
That's the last thing he thinks about as she leans down and kisses him. Her tongue has always been cleverer than his and she puts it to good use. As she straightens, Jack's hands come around, brushing against her sides and skimming her breasts to unfasten her bra from the front. Paul has never been able to get the hang of those. Her bare breasts are exposed and then covered by Jack's hands.
Sarah moans softly, licks her lips, and stares down at Paul with the kind of hunger usually seen on predators on the Discovery Channel. She frames his face with her hands as she leans over him. Jack slides her panties down and she's still on top of him, the lace of her panties dragging against his skin as she rocks forward. Jack is inside of her. She places a kiss on Paul's cheek and a hard bite on her shoulder as Jack thrusts in particularly viciously. Paul knows exactly how that feels.
His erection has no choice but to stir back to life, not with his wife rubbing against his front and Jack behind her. His eyes bore into Paul's and Paul feels possessed, no longer by one but by two. He knows then that he's not getting any work done over the next few days.
One of Jack's hands slides into Paul's hair, pulling until he's arching up into Sarah with a gasp. She chuckles and bites him again, making him moan and shiver.
Work can wait a few days.