The bus dropped her off in the parking lot of the library. The town never did have an official bus depot. It just wasn’t big enough. Her calls to Maggie had gone unanswered and calling her dad had been out of the question. So she wandered across the street to sit in the little park and feel sorry for herself and wait for her sister to call her back.
It’s early and a weekday but there are a few people enjoying the sunshine. Shrieks come from the playground where little children play under the watchful eye of their mothers sitting on the benches. An older man with what Beth believes to be a metal detector is circling around and around the grass following a persistent beeping. Another man and his dog are coming up the sidewalk. Beth stands to stretch her stiff legs. Five hours spent mostly sitting on a bus hadn’t helped her mood either.
Coming home after a failed attempt at making it big in Nashville was bad enough, but the last time she’d talked to her father he’d basically written her off for leaving behind a scholarship and a future in Veterinary medicine. Following in his footsteps, that’s what she would’ve been doing and while it hadn’t been a horrible prospect because she loves animals and has her daddy’s special touch, she dreamed of writing music and playing and singing in her own band.
She’d spent more time working two jobs to pay her bills than she had making her dreams come true with her music. And she’d been miserable in the big city. She missed her little hometown with its quiet streets and quaint coffee shop that knew her order and never got it wrong. She missed the farm and her horse Nellie. She even missed Maggie bossing her around like she was perpetually five years old. And she missed her stubborn father.
She’d had to go and leave home to figure all that out. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, all she wanted was to go home.
And here she is.
She heard the dog whining but before she could find out why she was on her back in the grass with a wet nose in her face.
“Goddammit pup!” The gruff voice belongs to the man who pulls the big yellow lab off of her so she can breathe again. “Ya okay? I only let ‘em off the leash fer a second. Supposed ta be trained ta stay. Fuckin’ dog don’t do shit,” the man grumbles as he offers Beth a hand.
Waving his hand away she bursts into tears and the dog starts whining again doing it’s best to get free of its owner’s grip. Her tears must’ve thrown the man off. He’s looking at her like he has no clue what to do and she can see the concern in his blue eyes, really blue eyes. Everything else about him is dark from his clothes to his hair but his eyes...
Then the dog is back in her lap nosing at her face and licking her cheeks, a completely different kind of concern.
“Shit! ‘M sorry... “ He plops down on the ground beside Beth and yanks the dog into his lap. “Did he hurt ya… Yer laughing?” His brow’s furrowed but that does nothing to hide the fact that he’s ruggedly handsome and those eyes…
“I’m fine… really, I’m okay… it’s just, god I wanted a sign. I guess I got it!” Still laughing she does her best to wipe away the tears and dog spit.
It’s insane and the irony isn’t lost on her. But the man currently sitting next to her in the grass is completely confused and rightly so, one minute she’s crying the next she’s laughing. He must think she’s a basket case.
“A sign?” The dog has given up on her and is now trying to lick his master’s frown away.
“I’m Beth, by the way.” She holds out a hand and he looks at it for a second before awkwardly taking it in his and giving it more of a squeeze than a shake.
“And what’s this friendly fellas name?” The dog has settled in Daryl’s lap the best he can considering his size. His tongue is out and he looks like he’s perfectly content.
“Uh, it’s Pup.” Daryl is squinting at her dubiously.
“Pup. Well, that’s unique.” Reaching between them she scratches the dog's nose.
“How the hell you know he’s a he?”
“He’s not, um… neutered.” She braces herself for a comeback, one she’s heard many times over the years. Especially from men. It’s like a personal attack on their own manhood when confronted with the issue of neutering a pet.
Daryl blushes as he lays a hand on Pup’s back.
“Yeah, I uh, I jus’ got ‘em. Kinda weird situation wasn’t even looking for a dog.” Okay so maybe Daryl isn’t one of those types of men, which makes her happy. Not that it matters, but it does a little. Right now she’ll grab onto anything that makes her feel good.
“But he found you right? So maybe you just didn’t know you needed him.” Beth smiles brightly and she’s sure she sees the corners of his mouth quiver as if they want to turn into a smile too. He doesn't look like he quite knows how to do it, smile. And she finds herself wanting to know why.
“He’s a reject and I got stuck with ‘em.” Now it’s her turn to be confused. Dusting off her hands she stands and this time she’s holding out a hand for him which he promptly dismisses and after untangling himself from his dog he stands up beside her.
“Would you want to have a cup of coffee or something? I’ll tell you about that sign I mentioned and you can tell me about Pup.” Daryl and his dog are the first good thing to come into her life in quite a while and she isn’t ready to let them go yet. She waits while Daryl mulls this over.
“Alright,” he says glancing over at her luggage and guitar case piled on the park bench. “If ya wanna grab yer stuff my trucks parked in the lot.” She does just that and Daryl must have given up on trying to hold Pup back because he follows her sniffing at her luggage and bumping into her legs.
She got off the bus from Nashville feeling scared and nervous. Now she feels like she can handle just about anything, even a call to her daddy if it comes to that.
And all because of a dog and the man that owns him.
X X X
Daryl’s not exactly sure what Carol had in mind when she said he needed this particular dog in his life. He’s nothing but a pain in the ass. But Carol sometimes knows more than humanly possible and it’s just fucking scary.
Now there’s a beautiful albeit strange blonde girl sitting in his truck going to coffee with him. Coffee that she suggested after being accosted by his dumb ass dog.
He hasn’t really thought of Pup in that way. Not in the literal sense. But the dog is his and he’s a reject and Daryl can kinda, sorta relate to that. It has nothing to do with the fact that the strange girl seems to think Pup is worth nose rubs and smiles and goofy baby talk. The idiot dog is eating it up. Sitting between the two of them tongue hanging out, tail wagging, he’s obviously smitten with Beth.
Daryl can kinda, sorta can relate to that too. Even though it’s not something he used to, being attracted to a woman he’s just met or any other woman for that matter. It’s been a long time since he’s actually felt anything at all for someone and he’s still not exactly sure what’s going on.
After placing their order at the counter they find a little table in the corner. Beth had wanted to bring Pup in, even said she figured it would be fine but Daryl isn’t all that comfortable having the dog out around other people. The park is something he just started doing because Carol said it was important to socialize him or some shit. And the first thing the damn dog does is jump all over a pretty girl.
“So what's Pup’s story, I mean assuming there is a story… which I guess I’m assuming. You said you’re stuck with him, does that mean you didn’t want him?” Coming from anyone else this might rub him the wrong way like he’s being accused of doing Pup dirty. But Beth is asking because she wants to know and even if he hardly knows her he can sense that and he finds himself wanting to tell her. Because he thinks she’ll probably like it, the way he and Pup came together.
“I gotta go first?” he asks hoping she catches on that he’s teasing. Or flirting, both of which he has very little experience doing.
“Yep. You first… I mean you kinda owe me. It was your dog that tried to suffocate me with slobbery puppy kisses.” She gets it. And the twinkle in her eye makes him think about being on the receiving end of any kind of kisses from her. Clearing his throat he leans back thankful for the interruption as the barista brings their order to them.
He watches as she sips her coffee and smiles at him over the rim. Waiting. She’s waiting for his story and he’s wondering how he got here. Glancing out the window he sees Pups nose through the opening in the truck window. Stupid dog. That’s why he’s here.
Pup stayed in the truck and Beth made sure both windows were cracked even though it’s late autumn and nowhere near hot enough to worry about the dog staying in the truck. Maybe it’s all the dog and not Daryl. She even suggested bringing Pup in with them. Blowing out a breath he picks up his coffee and takes a drink. The heat is good, even burns his lip a little. He can do this. He can have a conversation with her and let it go at that. He doesn’t even do this so… it'll be easy.
“Alright… Pup was supposed ta be one a them guide dogs, ya know ta help people with disabilities,” he says.
“Oh! Really? That’s amazing-”
“Nah. It ain’t. He ain’t got what it takes. Fucked up. So they was gonna send him off-”
“No!” Her face falls as she stares at him. “Not animal control?” Shrugging Daryl stirs his coffee.
“I’unno, Carol said it might not be a good place and he deserved something better. She thought I was better…”
“Oh… is Carol your girlfriend?”
“I’m sorry… it’s none of my business. I shouldn’t have asked.” She’s blushing and that must mean something.. that’s she’s curious if he has a girlfriend.
“ ‘S alright. She’s my sister in law. Place she works for trains the dogs.”
“Oh,” she smiles again, “but you took him so that means something right?”
“Means I can’t say no ta Carol,” Daryl mumbles. Glancing at the dog again he feels a little stab of guilt because if he’s being honest he kind of likes the big dumb mutt.
Especially if Beth likes him. The dog, not him. Maybe she’ll want to come see him again or the dog, either way, is okay with Daryl.
“Thas’ it. Ain’t nothing much.” He looks across the table at her again and for a minute when he was talking he forgot how pretty she is and so he wasn’t all that nervous. But now he’s looking and she’s the kind of pretty that in Daryl’s world comes with a 'do not touch' sign. Wrapping his hands around his cup he nods at her. “Yer turn.”
“My turn, right… well… um, I had a scholarship to go to school to become a vet, like my dad but I ran off to Nashville instead. To be a rockstar.” She’s blushing a little as she sips her coffee.
“Rockstar huh? That explains the guitar case. So yer famous?”
“Not quite. It didn’t actually work out like I dreamed it would.” There’s no smile on her face now. She looks a little like she might cry and he really hopes that’s not the case. He’s shit at dealing with tears.
“Guess life’s like that, ain’t exactly living the dream either.” It’s a fuck of a lot better than it has been though. He wants to ask her about her dreams now if they involve school or something else but he doesn’t want to make her feel any worse.
“You’ve got a dog and a truck and…” Her laughter is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “What exactly do you do here if you don’t mind me asking?” He shrugs. He doesn’t mind, not really but his answer isn’t all that exciting.
“Don’ mind. I’m a mechanic. Work mainly on farm equipment. I got a little place on the outskirts of town…” He’s making himself sound like a boring old loser. “And I got a dog and a truck.”
“Sounds like a nice quiet life. That’s something I missed when I took off…” He nods and watches her twist up her napkin like she’s nervous about something.
“Ya said something about a sign, ya know when Pup knocked ya over.” Her eyes sparkle but not with tears and it makes him feel good that he said something that makes her feel good.
“Part of the reason I came home was because being a rockstar sucked but the other part is, well my scholarship is still available and I wasn’t doing anything but working in Nashville and I miss being here, being home and I think… I think that going to school and being a vet like my daddy might not be so bad. It used to be the only dream I had and I never stopped wanting it. I just thought I wanted the music more.” It seems like she’s talking more to herself than him like she’s working things out while he listens.
“Tough choice.” At least he thinks it might be. But then his choices have never been all that life-changing.
“I got off the bus and I couldn’t get a hold of my sister and I don’t know if I want to call my daddy yet and I guess I got to feeling sorry for myself, asking God to like gimme a sign or something, let me know I was on the right track and then Pup jumped on me and I figured that had to be the sign I was looking for.” Her face isn’t just blushing now, it’s bright red. “Cause he’s a dog and… kinda ridiculous I know…”
“It ain’t. My dumbass dogs gotta be good fer something,” Daryl says.
And I met ya, is what he’s thinking.
“I know right?! I mean I could’ve gone into the library and hung out then I would’ve missed out on all of this! But I didn’t I went to the park and Pup was there and you…”
“And we’re having coffee.”
“Yes, we are… I think I like that part the best.” The way she says it, all soft and sweet makes his face warm. That warmth is spreading and he doesn’t doubt if he looked in the mirror he’d be bright red all the way to the tips of his ears.