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A Dog Leaves Paw Prints On Your Heart

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     Yuuri could feel little paws walking all over his body. He stretched his arms over his head and started to laugh as Vicchan started to lick his face.
     “Okay, okay, I’m up!” Vicchan started to back up and sat right on top of Yuuri’s right leg. The little dog’s tail was wagging furiously. Yuuri rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his right hand. Vicchan decided Yuuri was moving a little too slow and erupted with a little “arf, arf”. Yuuri turned in the bed and his feet hit the floor. Vicchan launched off the bed and ran out of the bedroom. Then, he ran back in, looked at Yuuri getting up, and then ran out again.
     “I should probably put some clothes on Vicchan. Be patient.” Yuuri hit the bathroom to take care of his human needs. Then, he pulled on his black running leggings and a black Mizuno tech shirt. The raven haired man stopped by the fridge and filled two water bottles. Reaching up, he grabbed a Cliff Bar for himself and a few doggie treats for his little buddy.
     “Vicchan, come here boy.” Yuuri walked over to the sofa and unzipped a black backpack. Vicchan jumped up onto the couch and walked right up onto the backpack. Meanwhile, Yuuri zipped their provisions and Vicchan’s leash into pockets on the side of the backpack. Yuuri zipped the pup into the backpack and unzipped a mesh panel toward the top of the bag. Vicchan poked his little brown curly head through the hole. Finally, Yuuri grabbed a plastic bag and stuffed it into his pocket. They were ready to go.

     “Be a good boy and we’ll hang out at Teddy Roosevelt Park for a while, okay Vicchan?” Yuuri said, walking toward the door.

     Yuuri liked to tell people that he had moved “off Broadway”. This was pretty accurate. He had found an apartment, above a coffee shop, on W 79th Street, less than a half a block from Broadway. He knew he was lucky to find a place so close to Central Park, which was populated by millionaires. Okay, technically, Yuuri was a millionaire. But he was on the humble side of millionaire, compared to most folks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

     Yuuri performed a few stretches, started up his workout on his GPS, and started his jog down 79th, toward Central Park. It was a beautiful Fall Day, the end of September. There was the slightest chill in the air, but Yuuri knew that he’d warm up quickly once he started his run. The sun was out and the sky was brilliantly blue. Yuuri turned on his bluetooth headphones and lost himself to the pounding of his feet on the pavement.

     He followed the 6 Mile Central Park Route which took Yuuri about an hour. He was pretty proud of his pacing today, dead on 10 minute miles. Yuuri crossed over Central Park West and headed into Theodore Roosevelt Park. Yuuri pulled Vicchan from his little doggie backpack and clipped on his leash. Yuuri leisurely walked Vicchan around the park to give him a little exercise and let him do his doggie business. Vicchan dutifully sniffed every leaf, park bench, and garbage can and then found a good place to go. Yuuri pulled out the plastic bag, scooped up the doggie doo, and dropped the knotted bag into the garbage can.
     “Let’s hit the park Vicchan.”

     The Bull Moose Dog Run is a sweet little dog park nestled right alongside the Natural History Museum. The ground is sand and dirt. The fence is lined with benches and Yuuri hoped that it would be a great place to meet people, since he was new to town. Yuuri had been a few times, but hadn’t talked to anybody yet. He wanted to meet people, but he was a little bit shy at the same time.

     Yuuri set the doggie backpack on the green bench next to him. He pulled out the water bottles and a few treats for Vicchan. Yuuri then pulled out a small, square rubbermaid dish and poured in some water for the poodle. Vicchan drank greedily. Yuuri smiled.
     “You were thirsty, huh?” Yuuri offered Vicchan a treat, which the pup sniffed and then gingerly extracted from his person’s fingers.

     “That is a happy baby!” Yuuri heard an accented voice say above him. Yuuri looked up and saw a tall, slender man, with silver hair. His eyes were devastatingly blue, like the sky above them.

     “Oh, Vicchan? He’s not a baby. He’s just a miniature poodle.” Yuuri replied. He noticed that the man had a standard poodle by his side. His color reminded Yuuri of how he liked his latte, a light creamy brown. Vicchan had more of a caramel/red tone to his curly coat. ‘Wait a minute’ Yuuri thought. ‘Oh my God.’
     “Are you, by any chance, Victor Nikiforov?” Yuuri said, awestruck. The silver haired man smiled.
     “I am. But, you, you’re Yuuri Katsuki! I can’t believe I’m meeting you here!” Victor proclaimed. “You’ve spent the last few years breaking my records.” Yuuri blushed a light pink and tried to ignore the compliment.

     “Wow,” Yuuri said softly, “So, this is Makkachin?” Yuuri reached out to him and let him sniff his fingers. Then Yuuri reached and scratched Makkachin’s ear. Makkachin stretched his neck to sniff noses with Vicchan, who was still on the bench.

     “Do you mind if I sit?” Victor asked, pointing at a spot next to Yuuri.

     “No, no, of course not.” Yuuri returned. He quickly picked up his water bottle and motioned next to him with his hand. Vicchan jumped off of the bench and he and Makkachin ran off together. Yuuri and Victor looked at each other and smiled.

     “Looks like they are friends.” Victor said.

     “Yeah…” Yuuri was a bit over awed. He couldn’t believe that his childhood hero was sitting next to him.

The two sat in silence for a few minutes watching Makkachin follow Vicchan as he sniffed at the fence that surrounded one of the trees in the dog park.

     “So what’s Japan’s Ace doing in New York City?” Victor asked. He had turned slightly on the bench so that his left knee was very close to Yuuri’s right knee. Yuuri folded his right knee under his body and turned toward the skating legend so he could look him in the eye while they chatted.

     “Oh, well, I’m trying to get my MBA at NYU. I have a degree in Sports Psychology, but I decided that what I really need to know is how to run a business.” Yuuri explained.

     “Do you live close by?” Victor asked casually.

     “I do! I have a little apartment above the coffee shop on 79th. Just a few blocks from here,” Yuuri said excitedly. “I know I was lucky to find a place so close to Central Park.”

     Victor had his finger over his mouth, absorbing every word, and nodding his head.

     “You must have a bit of a knack for business already.”

Yuuri looked down at his hands and then looked up.

     “I have a knack for investing, “ he returned shyly. “How did you know?”

     “You have an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.” Victor shrugged.

     “What about you? What brought you to New York?” Yuuri asked. Victor didn’t answer right away. He looked away awkwardly and scratched the back of his head.

     “Russia is no longer the safest place for me.” Victor said matter of factly.

     “Sorry, if that was too personal a question.” Yuuri said softly. Yuuri almost reached out to touch Victor’s hand. ‘Don’t be an idiot. You just met him.’ Yuuri felt that there was a lot of pain behind Victor’s statement. He could feel his stomach tighten with worry that he made Victor feel uncomfortable.

     Victor pulled Yuuri out of his head with a jolt by clapping him on the shoulder. “No, no. You said nothing wrong. I had asked you the same question just a moment ago. It’s just...a sad topic. I don’t want to talk about sad things today.” Victor smiled at him and rubbed his shoulder reassuringly.

     “Can I give Makkachin a treat?” Yuuri asked, changing the subject.

     “Of course!” Victor brightened. “Makka!” Victor called. Immediately, Makkachin ran over with Vicchan following closely behind.

     “Sit.” Both pups dutifully sat.
     “Shake.” Each poodle put up a paw and shook hands with his person.
     “Up.” Both pups brought their paws into the air.” Victor and Yuuri both laughed and praised the pups. Yuuri gave each poodle a treat.
     “Wonderful!” Victor said laughing, “They know the same tricks.”

     “Vicchan knows a few more. Watch.” Yuuri took out another treat and stood over the pup. With one finger, he drew a circle in the air above the caramel colored pup.
     “Spin Vicchan!” The pup stood on two legs and rotated in a circle.
     “Axel Vicchan!” The pup added a hop and turned about a half rotation in the air.
     “Vicchan, it’s the paparazzi!” Vicchan sat on his haunches, lowered his nose, and covered his eyes with one of his paws. Yuuri smiled and praised the pup, scratching his ears with both hands.

     Victor was beside himself, laughing.

     “That was amazing Yuuri! Good boy Vicchan!” Victor crouched down and tried to pet the wiggling pup. Makkachin let out a “Boof!” and sniffed at Vicchan’s rear end. The two pups ran off to explore the next fenced tree.

     “That literally made my day,” Victor said with a smile. Sighing, he returned to the bench.

     “If you don’t mind me asking, are you visiting New York or are you living here too? Are you coaching?”

     “Oh, well, I live a few blocks away too, on 83rd.” Victor replied. “But, I’m making a living mixing music and doing choreography for skaters from all over the world. I do private lesson here and there." Victor leaned in conspiratorially. "But, I charge outrageous prices for the private lessons, because I don’t want to get talked into coaching full time."  Yuuri chuckled.

     “You don’t enjoy coaching?” Yuuri asked, curious.

     “I don’t mind it, but, I have no interest in traveling anymore. Skaters that want my choreography, they come to me.” Victor admitted.

     “How about you? Are you coaching?” Victor asked.

     “I am teaching ballet and strength and conditioning for figure skaters down at Chelsea Piers. I can’t really travel and get my MBA. But, I want to own a rink someday and create a special place for skaters to train.” Yuuri confided. “I imagine that I will do some private lessons, if asked.”

     Victor gave an ironic laugh. “Hah, I can guarantee that the reigning World Champion will be asked for private lessons.” Yuuri blushed slightly at the compliment.

     “I suppose.” Yuuri acknowledged.

     The two continued to chat for some time. They talked about skating, they talked about people they both knew in the skating world, and they talked about their favorite countries to visit back in the day. Soon, the sun was overhead and they realized that a lot of time had gone by when Makkachin came over and lay down on both of their feet.

     “Wow! It is nearly 11:00,” Victor exclaimed, looking at his phone. Little Vicchan sat, panting at Yuuri’s feet. Suddenly, he jumped up onto the backpack, turned three times, and lay down.

     “We’ve been talking for nearly 3 hours. I hope this doesn’t make you late for anything,” Yuuri looked concerned.

     “No, I’m not working today, but I am having lunch with a friend in…Oh, an hour!” Victor said, looking down at his phone. “Listen, I took a picture of our pups together. Give me your number so that I can send it to you.”

     “Sure, here, let’s just switch phones and put our contacts in,” Yuuri handed Victor his phone in exchange for his. They added their contacts. Yuuri looked up and saw Victor taking a selfie of himself as the contact photo. Yuuri laughed and then did the same.

     “This is my after workout look. I’m sure I look awful,” Yuuri said, running his hand through his hair.

     “You look fine. Actually, those leggings are kind of amazing.” Victor replied. He cleared his throat and looked at Yuuri with a soft smile and placed his hand on top of Yuuri’s. “It has been a real pleasure to meet you Yuuri Katsuki. Who’d have thought I’d meet another expatriate, World Champion Figure Skater, who loves poodles, and lives only a few blocks away?”

     Yuuri was extremely aware of Victor’s touch, which gave him a very strange sensation in his stomach.

     Yuuri hummed, “Yeah, who’d a thought…”

     Victor looked at his watch again and sighed. “Do you like coffee?”

     “Sure.” Yuuri replied.

     “Text me and maybe we can get coffee after we walk the dogs next time? I just need a little warning.” Victor stood up and clipped Makkachin’s lead onto his collar. The pup stood up and gave a good shake to get the sandy soil out of his coat. Vicchan continued to snooze until Yuuri zipped him back into the bag. The bag wiggled and Vicchan poked his head out of the hole at the top. Yuuri put the doggie backpack on his back and followed Victor to the gate. Victor laughed at the little head poking out the back.

     “I love it Yuuri! Where did you find a doggie backpack like that?” Victor asked.

     “Internet,” Yuuri answered with a smile. “It is great isn’t it? I can take Vicchan everywhere with me. He loves it too. He’s like a purse dog, but more metro.”

Yuuri: Phi, I just met Victor Nikiforov at the dog park down the street. He gave me his contact.

Phichit: (0 o 0) Are you kidding me?

Yuuri: I don’t kid about Victor Nikiforov. He is so beautiful...and nice...and he smells good. I’m dying…

Phichit: At least you’ll die happy. <3

Victor <3: Have you looked at your schedule yet?

Yuuri: OMG, he just texted me. And, he entered his name into my phone with a heart next to his name. =^_^=

Yuuri: I haven’t gotten home yet Victor. You live closer to the dog park than me. :) Give me about 3 more minutes.

Victor <3: Let me know. ;)

Yuuri: How about tomorrow? But, I’ll need to shower before we go out. I run before I go to the dog park.

Victor <3: Perfect.

Yuuri fell back onto his bed, hands over his head, his phone still clutched in one hand. ‘My first friend in New York is Victor Nikiforov. Mind blown.'