It’s after midnight, and it’s raining. It rarely rains in National City, but of course it’s pouring tonight. Maggie just getting off an eighteen-hour shift—it was supposed to be just four hours, but things happened, men were incompetent, crimes were committed—and she’s exhausted and starving.
And now the rain is pouring down the neck of her jacket, dripping into her eyes, and she’s freezing. She’d walked to work this morning because she was only supposed to work for a few hours and it was gorgeous this morning. The forty-five minute walk cleared her head, got her body moving. This morning, it felt like meditation.
Tonight, though, fuck it. She gets the lyft to drop her off at the falafel shop a few blocks away from home because fuck cooking on a night like this. But now she’s slipping on the wet pavement on her way home, hoping the bag holding her food doesn’t have so many holes that her food will be a soggy mess by the time she gets back.
She’s a block away from home when she hears it. Something moving in the alley to her left.
She stops and listens. The rain is loud, but something is shuffling back there, and it doesn’t sound like a person. There’s a snuffling sound, and—is that a whine?
She puts her food down on a stoop, and turns on the flashlight on her phone, hoping the rain doesn’t get inside the circuitry. She really can’t afford a new phone right now.
She’s hoping to see a racoon, or maybe a bunch of rats. Something she won’t have to deal with, anyway. If it’s a person, there’s a shelter just a few blocks away she can recommend. She’s hoping it’s not a dog, or god forbid, a cat. Picking up a stray cat in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, is a recipe for getting slashed to ribbons.
Something skitters out of the way of the flashlight, startled. She quickly turns off her light, blinking.
It was fucking big.
Not a cat. Not a racoon.
With a groan, she walks back to the stoop and, sighing heavily, unties the plastic bag and pulls out her dinner. She’s not sure how enticing falafel will be to what might be an extremely large dog, but she’s never met a pooch that could resist French fries.
She—so sadly—pulls a handful of fries out of the Styrofoam, and walks back into the alley.
“Hey, sweet thing,” she croons softly. “I got a treat for you, honey.”
She tosses one fry into the back of the alley. There’s a loud scrabbling sound, like the creature jumped on it. Maggie smiles, a little grimly, the rain pouring off her eyelids.
“Here’s another one, honey.” She tosses this one a little closer.
She hasn’t turned the light back on, but she can see a massive shape dart out from behind a trash can for a just an instant before hiding again.
It takes almost half an hour, and all of her French fries, but the creature finally trusts her enough to come to the fries on the ground just a few feet from her. It slinks out, belly almost dragging on the ground. It’s dark and wet in the alley, but Maggie can tell it’s a dog.
“Hi, big fella,” she croons. “Hi, sweetie. You must be really cold, huh?”
The dog swallows the French fry and looks up at her, whining.
It’s mostly black, she thinks, with a white patch on his chest, like a tuxedo shirt. It’s hard to tell, but it might be a pitbull.
“Good boy,” Maggie praises. “Or, good girl. I don’t know. I’ll say both, okay?”
The dog whines again.
“I know, lovey. I know.”
Maggie doesn’t have a leash or anything with her. All she has is a jacket and a gun. Neither are terribly helpful. She thinks about calling animal control, but she knows what happens to pitbulls who end up in city shelters.
Resigning herself to starve to death, she walks a few steps backwards, incredibly slowly, still talking to the dog. “Okay, big baby. Okay. I’ve got a big, juicy, falafel sandwich here, okay? You’re gonna follow me all the way home for bites of falafel, right, honey? You must love falafel, right? Dogs love vegan cuisine.”
It feels crappy to hope that the dog is starving, but she figures that’s the only way he’ll leave the safety of his alley for fried chickpea fritters.
But he’s either starving or vegan, because he follows her easily.
He’s still anxious, whining a little, his tail tucked between his legs, his chest keening down towards the ground. But he follows her, step by step, vacuuming up the little pieces of falafel she drops on the ground, like breadcrumbs.
By the time they—finally—get to the front of her apartment building, he takes a piece out of her fingers, and his enormous mouth is incredibly gentle as he does it.
He hates the stairs—trembling and whining—but pieces of pita dipped in hummus are tempting enough that he slowly forces himself up the two flights to her door.
Maggie unlocks her door, and he follows her in, scared and trying to make himself small.
“What a good boy!” She tries not to scare him, but hustles to close the door behind him so he can’t scurry away and undo almost an hour of painstaking work. “What a smart, brave, wonderful baby you are!”
In the light of her apartment, she can see him clearly. He’s mostly black, like she thought, but maybe with a brindle pattern on his back. His chest is probably supposed to be white, but is currently quite dirty. He’s a pitbull for sure—square head and all—and his ears are clipped, which makes Maggie want to shoot someone. He’s also fucking huge. Seventy pounds at least. He’s tall as hell, his back comes to her mid-thigh, and while he’s not a complete block of dog like others she’s met, he’s still a solid fucker.
He’s also completely terrified.
Still muttering praise, Maggie grabs two towels from her bathroom, and a jar of peanut butter from her fridge. She lays one towel on the ground and slowly sits next to it. She dips a big spoon into the peanut butter, and holds it out for him.
It takes a few minutes, but he slowly pads over to her. He smells the peanut butter, and something lights up in his eyes. He absolutely goes to town on the spoon, his big pink tongue making quick work of the glob of peanut butter. Maggie manages to gently drape the other towel over his back while he eats, trying to keep the chill off him.
He doesn’t even notice.
He slams down five spoonful’s of peanut butter before Maggie figures he’s had enough. He ate her entire falafel sandwich and side of fries, and that’s probably more than his little stomach can handle. He’s clearly hungry—his ribs are showing through his dark coat more than they should be.
Maggie orders herself a pizza, and texts her captain that she’s going to take the morning off. It’s after one in the morning, and she’s going to have to figure out how to get this dog to the vet tomorrow to check for a microchip. She texts her downstairs neighbor, who has a dog, and asks to borrow a leash for the morning.
They spend another hour or two peacefully coexisting. The dog seems torn between vigilance and exhaustion—now that his belly is full, he’s swaying where he sits. Maggie pretends to ignore him, watching a few old episodes of Community.
She gives him a pizza crust, which he gently lips from her hand and quickly takes over to his towel to devour.
After she eats, she lays an old blanket out on the couch, in case he gets any ideas during the night. He’s still wet and smells like alley, so she’d rather he not rub himself directly into her couch.
“Goodnight, little baby,” she says to him. “I hope you sleep okay, honey. We’ll try to find your people tomorrow. If you have people.”
Maggie wakes up at nine in the morning to the sound of whining. She goes from asleep to wide awake in an instant—a tactic she learned during her stint living in a shelter for runaway teens before her aunt pulled her out.
She pads out into the living room to see the dog crying in the corner. He’s peed on the floor, she can see, and he seems incredibly upset about it.
“Oh, baby,” she gushes, tears almost coming to her eyes. She remembers that feeling—any small mistake, and you’ll be punished forever. “It’s okay, sweetie. It’s okay.”
She tosses one of the towels over the wet spot, gushing praise to him to try to make him less afraid. She checks her front door, and bless her neighbor, there’s a leash and two collars waiting for her. After some good morning peanut butter, the dog lets her put the bigger collar on him, and fearfully follows her out the door, down the two very scary flights of stairs, and out onto the street.
He pees quickly again, like he’s asking for forgiveness.
He lets her scratch his head, and Maggie’s heart breaks a little bit.
“Is it bad that I hope you don’t have a chip?” He looks up at her, his dark eyes big and soft. He looks so sweet, like a tiny hippo. “Then you could live with me forever, huh, baby?”
He easily follows her back upstairs, and happily eats a makeshift breakfast of leftover rice, veggies, and the crusts from Maggie’s breakfast pizza.
After breakfast, he lets Maggie rub him down with the non-pee towel, and she finally gets a look at his underside.
Or, well, her underside? Dogs don’t have genders, but this baby has no penis, so, “Good girl,” Maggie coos. “What a good girl you are, sweet baby.”
She doesn’t want to take her to the vet. She wants to just keep her. The dog is so sweet, and loving. It’s been only a few hours, and she’s already asking Maggie for affection. She’s got such a big blocky head and a barrel chest and someone clipped her ears, and maybe that person doesn’t deserve to have her back at all.
But Maggie’s a good fucking person, so with great sadness, she looks up vets on her phone, and finds a clinic in walking distance.
So she—a bit more slowly than necessary—fills her pockets with snacks, puts the whole jar of peanut butter and fresh spoon in her backpack, tosses in some plastic bags, and puts the leash back on the dog.
She’s positively prancing down the stairs, now, and Maggie wants to keep her so badly.
She walks well on leash—a clear sign that she’s lived with people before. It makes Maggie happy that maybe she had a good life before she got lost, but also, fuck. Goodbye, sweet pooch.
They make it to the vet without incident. The dog poops on a scraggly patch of grass, and Maggie easily cleans it up with one of her plastic bags.
She doesn’t seem to know to be scared of the vet. She prances right into the waiting room like she owns it, happily smelling the floor. They check in and then take a seat, the dog staring lovingly into Maggie’s eyes while being fed a slow, steady stream of snacks to keep her distracted from the other animals waiting to be seen.
Finally, they’re called back.
“She’s chipped,” the vet tech announces, and Maggie’s heart sinks. “I’ll run it.”
The vet gives a quick physical exam while they wait for the microchip results. “She’s about two,” he says. “A little thin, but she looks well cared for until recently. Good dental care, professional grooming, clipped nails. This is definitely someone’s dog.”
Maggie tries to smile, but she mostly fails. The dog licks her hand, and Maggie bites her lip. She scratches between her clipped ears, and the dog leans into her.
“She likes you,” the vet says, like it’s a good thing and doesn’t totally suck.
“Yeah, she’s a good girl. Aren’t you, baby?”
The dog licks up her face, leaving a long line of spit from Maggie’s chin to her eyebrows. The vet laughs, and Maggie tries not to cry. Stupid sweet little barrel of love.
“Here’s the microchip info,” the vet tech announces.
“Great,” Maggie says, snatching the piece of paper from the tech. “I’ll call them right now.”
“We can call for you,” the vet says slowly, clearly worried—justifiably—that Maggie’s going to steal the dog.
“No, it’s fine. I know you have a jam-packed waiting room. I’ll call, and we can meet up somewhere that might be less stressful for the dog.”
The vet hums, but lets it slide. He gives the dog a biscuit, which she takes with her dainty, gentle lips, and he hands the leash back to Maggie.
She looks at the paper as soon as they’re outside.
“Clyde,” she says, looking down at the dog, whose tongue is lolling out of her mouth. “Is that your name, baby?”
Clyde looks up at her, clearly recognizing the name.
“Okay, good girl. Okay, Clyde. Let’s get you home and then call your people.”
They get home, and Clyde immediately makes herself comfortable on the couch next to Maggie. It fucking hurts.
Maggie opens her work laptop, and runs a quick search on the owner listed next to Clyde’s name, an Alexandra Danvers. If she has so much as a known association with a dog fighting ring, Maggie’s going to rip up the paper and claim Clyde for her own.
But Alexandra’s name comes back clean. A thorough google search shows a stern young white woman with way too many advanced degrees. She either doesn’t use social media or it’s locked down tight, but there’s nothing to indicate that she’s the one who clipped Clyde’s ears.
Maggie gives herself fifteen minutes to scratch Clyde’s big old head before she sighs, picks up her phone, and dials the number on the stupid piece of paper.
It rings twice, then, “Danvers.”
“Hi, is this Alex Danvers?”
“Who’s asking?” The voice is sharp and suspicious, like the pictures of her online. Hawkish, a little cold. Very formal.
“Uh, my name is Maggie Sawyer. I think I found your dog.”
The voice changes, immediately. “Clyde? Oh my god! You found Clyde?”
“Yeah. I found her in an alley last night, on Central near 3rd Ave. I took her to the vet this morning, and they found her chip.”
The voice is hitching a little, and it sounds like she’s moving around. “In an alley? Is she okay? Is she hurt?”
Okay, well, it seems like this Alexandra Danvers genuinely loves the dog. Maggie tries not to be so sad as she gives what are clearly goodbye scratches to Clyde’s head.
“She’s okay. A little thin, but the vet said she’s fine.”
“Thank god.” There are more sounds now—cars and wind. She must have bolted outside. “Are you still at the vet? Where can I meet you?”
“Um, no, we’re at my apartment right now. I’m near University Park. Maybe we can meet there?”
“Sure, yeah. Great. I can be there in…” There are muffled sounds, like she’s consulting with someone else. “Four minutes.”
Maggie can’t help but laugh.
The voice becomes hawkish again. “What?”
“No, sorry! That’s just…very specific. Four minutes.”
“Oh.” She’s chagrined, and Maggie feels bad. “Yeah, I love...to, uh, be precise. I guess.”
Someone else seems to be laughing in the background, and Maggie likes picturing Clyde with people who have nice laughs like that.
“Well, it might take us closer to ten minutes to get there, but I’ll see you there. Near the northeast corner.”
Alexandra Danvers agrees, and they hang up.
Maggie only lives a three minute walk from the northeast corner of the park, but she padded the time to give herself a few more minutes to pull herself together. She cuddles Clyde for six more minutes before heaving herself to her feet and getting them ready to go. She drops a long, tender kiss to Clyde’s big blocky head before opening the door and leading Clyde back to her person.
Maggie hadn’t thought to ask how she’d recognize Alexandra Danvers, but she needn’t have worried. As soon as they cross into the park, it’s clear that a woman is waiting for them. She’s a bit in the distance, but she’s spotted them easily.
And Clyde has spotted her too.
With one great bound, she pulls the leash clear out of Maggie’s hand, and she’s racing across the grass to Alexandra. Alexandra is running at her too, and Clyde is sprinting and wagging and barking with joy. As soon as they reach each other, Clyde jumps up on Alexandra, her paws reaching her chest, and trying to lick her face, all while dancing around and wagging her tail so hard she might fall over.
Alexandra is gushing at her, scratching her head and trying to hug her while Clyde is wriggling against her. As Maggie finally closes in—trotting up much more slowly than Clyde had—she can see that Alexandra is crying. “Hi baby,” she’s gasping. “Hi good girl. Oh, hi, my love. I missed you, big baby girl!”
Clyde is now alternating between running circles around Alexandra and trying to lick her face off. Alexandra sinks down to her knees on the grass, giving Clyde easier access to her.
“Well,” Maggie says after a few moments, more a third-wheel than ever in her life, “I guess you must be Alexandra.”
Alexandra looks up at her, clearly noticing her for the first time. “Oh.” She smiles at Maggie, and she’s stupid pretty. “Right. Yeah. I’m—ouch, Clyde!—I’m Alex.”
She’s still sitting on the ground, but she holds up a hand to Maggie to shake, which is both absurd and very appealing.
Maggie takes her hand. “Maggie. Sawyer.”
“Well, Maggie Sawyer, why don’t you sit down for a second so I can properly thank you for finding my dog.”
And Maggie’s certainly not going to complain about the chance to spend more time with Clyde—or with this very pretty human woman—so she drops easily onto the grass.
Clyde is absolutely ecstatic. She wagging her tail so fast that it’s mostly just a blur, and her butt is wiggling so much from the force of it that she can barely stand. She’s rubbing herself against Alex, circling her and licking every inch of skin. Alex is giving her scratches anywhere she can reach.
Alex asks Maggie about finding her, and Maggie tells her the story. Alex laughs about the falafel, and offers to pay Maggie back for it, which Maggie firmly declines. “Who knew you were a little vegan,” she says to Clyde, scratching behind her ears. “I should feed you chickpeas more often, huh baby?”
Clyde licks up her face, clearly in agreement.
“How did she get lost?”
Alex grimaces. “I was stuck out of a town for a night, and my neighbor’s high schooler was watching her. The fire alarm in the building went off, and when the kid opened the front door, Clyde bolted. The sound totally freaked her out, we’re guessing, and she just ran. By the time the kid got outside, she’d already turned the corner. They looked for her, but she didn’t really know them, you know?”
Maggie nods. That’s rough. That could happen to anyone. She resigns herself to Alex being a good person who loves her dog and didn’t clip her ears and deserves to have her back. Maggie wonders how quickly she can find a sweet pitbull at a local rescue to take home.
“And once I got back, my sister and I scoured the city for her, for weeks. I posted flyers, offered rewards, even put stuff on nextdoor, which is a racist cesspool I usually avoid. But, nothing. She wasn’t wearing her collar, and no one had scanned her chip, and she wasn’t picked up, not at any shelter. I was so worried she’d been hit by a car or something.”
She hugs Clyde into her body, who sinks down into her lap, clearly exhausted from her joyful wriggling. It looks a little ridiculous, a seventy-pound dog on this skinny woman’s lap, but they both look blissful.
“I can’t believe you found her.” She’s beaming at Maggie, and, fuck. Now Maggie wants both of them.
“Pure luck,” she says, and she can’t help but flash a dimple.
Alex blushes, and, okay. Interesting.
“Was she a rescue?”
“Yeah. I got her about a year ago. They think she ran away from a fighting ring, maybe.” Alex toys with her clipped ears, and Maggie nods.
“Honestly, I was worried that you were the fighting ring,” she admits. “I googled you, after I got the chip results.”
She expects Alex to maybe be mad, but she just nods. “Oh, yeah. I’d have done that too.”
“She’s a great dog,” Maggie says, trying not to say the rest of it. I was hoping you were evil so I could keep her.
Alex is still blushing, or, possibly, blushing even more. “Well, she clearly likes you,” she says, watching as Clyde bounces over to Maggie, licking her face and wiggling her butt so Maggie will scratch above her tail.
“She’s got good taste.” Maggie lets herself wink at Alex, who possibly chokes on her own spit.
“Um, well, listen. My sister and I are having a bbq this weekend, in Clover Park. You should come. I need to thank you properly, and I’m Jewish, so that means I need to feed you. And Clyde will be there.”
Maggie blinks, weighing her options. Making small talk with strangers isn’t her favorite thing, but spending more time with Clyde and Alex sounds like heaven.
“I can buy those impossible burgers—wait, are you actually vegan, or do you just like falafel?”
Maggie laughs. “Vegetarian, actually.”
“Then I’ll definitely buy impossible burgers, and we’ll grill corn, and my sister makes amazing potato salad. There’ll be tons of beer, and it should be super chill.” She grabs Clyde’s face, turning her dopey grin towards Maggie. “And this little face will be there. You can’t say no to this face, can you?”
No, she can’t.
“I’d love to come.”
Alex beams. Clyde runs in circles around both of them.
The party is surprisingly nice. Alex and her sister have prepared an absolute feast, and everything is delicious. It’s all perfect summer food—watermelon, potato salad, a panoply of chips and dips, sliced vegetables, grilled corn, burgers, hot dogs, three different types of buns, and a special plate of impossible burgers for Maggie and someone named Vasquez. There are two coolers overflowing with beer, canned gin and tonics, and sparking water.
Clyde is on a long tether strung between two trees, so she can wander around but can’t escape again. She attacks Maggie with licks and wags the second she sees her, and Maggie’s heart clenches.
Alex’s sister seems to share many of Clyde’s attributes. She gives Maggie the biggest, most startling hug of her life when Alex introduces them. “Thank you for finding my niece!” she chirps into Maggie’s ear, her smile big enough that Maggie wonders if her tongue is going to start hanging out the side of it, like Clyde’s.
The rest of Alex’s friends seem chiller, with the exception of a young woman named Nia with a frantic energy who spills two full beers on the ground after gesticulating too wildly around them. Vasquez, the other vegetarian, is clearly also a soft butch, and she and Maggie spend quite a while shooting the shit. She’s fun.
There’s cornhole (because most of the people are white), and Clyde keeps running between the two teams, trying and failing to snatch the beanbags out of the air. Maggie lures her out of the way with a piece of watermelon, and Clyde spends the next half hour dozing on her lap while Maggie's heart entirely melts.
Maggie goes to say goodbye to Alex, who is shifting anxiously.
She’s wearing a white shirt and black shorts, and she’s impossibly pretty.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Maggie says. Her clothes are covered with Clyde’s hair, and her mouth still tastes like watermelon and beer. “I had a really good time.”
“Good.” Alex is twisting her fingers in the bottom hem of her shirt. “I’m glad.”
There’s a long pause, like she wants to say something else, but she’s not.
“Um, okay. So, uh. Have a good rest of the day.” It’s really awkward. Alex is being really awkward. She’d been loose and happy all day; Maggie can’t figure it out at all.
But Alex just says, “Yeah, you too,” and back away, giving Maggie a very strange little wave.
Maggie waves back, leaving with a weird feeling between her shoulder blades.
That night, she gets a text from an unknown number. She opens it—hesitant about accepting pictures from strangers—and immediately grins. It’s a picture of Clyde. She’s laying on a big fluffy bed, and she’s looking impossibly forlorn.
You didn’t say goodbye to me, the caption says.
Maggie quickly saves Alex’s contact information before clicking back into the text. I did too! Your mom was just a little distracted by her third hamburger.
Hey, no shade! They looked delicious
And thank you for the impossible burger, by the way. It was legit good
Alex: Oh good
There’s another pause. It feels like back at the park, when Alex had wanted to say something else.
Finally the gray dots indicate that Alex is typing. She does it for a long time before the text finally slides onto Maggie’s screen.
Well, she still wants you to make it up to her
There’s another picture of Clyde. This time she’s laying on her side, looking over her shoulder in a clear invitation/demand for belly rubs.
Maggie raises her eyebrows. Is this how Alex flirts? By sending pictures of her dog’s stomach?
Not that it isn’t working, of course.
What does she have in mind?
Another pause, and then, You should come over for dinner
Maggie’s decided that if Alex’s sister is there, it isn’t a date. Just more thank you’s for finding Clyde. But if Alex is alone, then maybe it’s something else.
Maggie knocks on Alex’s door. Clyde barks from the other side, a low booming bark, and Alex is clearly laughing at her. “Clyde! Clyde! You big lump, back up. It’s Maggie. You like Maggie. Oh my god, move, you dumb dog.”
Maggie’s laughing too, and Alex opens the door and she’s gorgeous. Skinny jeans and a faded denim shirt, and her hair looks perfect.
She’s bending down, holding onto Clyde’s collar to keep her from bolting into the hallway. “Come in. Sorry, she loves to be in the way.”
Maggie edges in, past the brick of a dog who jumps up to lick her right in the face.
Maggie surveys the apartment. It’s a studio. She can see the living room, kitchen, and she tries very hard not to look at the enormous bed, which honestly seems to be glowing with a golden light.
There’s no one else here. Alex is alone.
Alex feeds her risotto and a hearty salad. They drink white wine, and Clyde spends all of dinner with her head on Maggie’s knee, clearly having pegged her as the easiest mark.
After dinner they move to the couch. Alex pours another glass of wine. Clyde curls up in the corner, and promptly starts snoring.
Alex rolls her eyes. “Oh my god, Clyde!” She nudges the dog, but Clyde doesn’t even seem to notice.
“Way to ruin the vibe,” Alex mutters, and that’s all the opening Maggie needs.
She’s careful to pitch her voice low and intimate as she leans in, just the smallest amount. “She’s not ruining the vibe.”
Alex blinks at her, her fingers twisting in her lap, but she’s leaning too.
Maggie shakes her head, leaning in much closer.
She’s almost whispering it against Alex’s skin now.
Alex smiles, soft and real. She closes the distance, pressing her words into Maggie’s lips. “Thank god.”
Clyde does almost ruin the mood, a few hours later. They’re in Alex’s obscenely large bed, and Maggie’s doing some of her best work when Clyde positively snarfles in her sleep. It makes both women jump, and Alex laughs hysterically, hiding her face in her hands.
But Maggie just bats her hands away, kisses her breathless, and gets back to business.
The next morning, Alex wakes up to find Maggie feeding her dog an absurdly huge glob of peanut butter. But Clyde deserves it.