Free short story for you, dear Readers. Inspired by an ad for my favorite running shoes…
“We’re building you the perfect run.” (Newton Running ad)
Inevitable. February in New England had always mocked Josue, and today was no different. He loved to run, and New England loved to be warm and sunny and in the mid-40s during the work week when he could never get away from the office early enough, and then below 30, with freezing rain, mountains of snow banks, or blustery, icy winds on the weekends when he had all the time in the world to don his favorite sneakers and get lost in the rhythm of his feet on the pavement.
Josue stood on his front stoop stomping his feet and rubbing his arms. Maybe he should have put on one more layer before heading out. He knew better, of course. When it was chilly, he tended to overdress. He had purposely left the warmer jacket in the closet this time. The first half mile would be bitterly cold. After that, he’d warm up. He hoped so anyway. The wind cut through his thin running tights, and licked frost across his nose and cheeks. The thermometer read thirty-three, and yet it felt more like twenty-three with the wind whipping around him, teasing and taunting, as if Mother Nature wanted to scold him for daring to step out the door.
“Okay, let’s do this,” he said. Gulliver snorted, and then trotted toward the road. The golden retriever had been snuffling around a bush, but running beat out the scent of the neighbor’s cat paws down. With his thick reddish blond coat, Josue was jealous of Gulliver during weather like this. Gulliver didn’t seem to ever mind the weather, even during the last snowstorm where the drifts came up to the dog’s shoulder. He’d plow right through, or when stuck, bound up and down like a rabbit, leaping over the snow.
At the mailbox, Gulliver looked back at Josue with his big, dark eyes, questioning Josue’s delay. “I’m coming,” Josue muttered. He jogged down the short driveway and turned left down the road. Gulliver fell in beside him, his claws tapping faintly on the asphalt. “You need your nails trimmed, bud.” Gulliver ignored him. Had Gulliver understood, he’d probably bolt down the road at full speed. He could be such a big baby about his paws.
As if thinking it made it happen, Gulliver let out a sharp, deep bark and ran at a forty-five degree angle onto the neighbor’s lawn. Josue spotted the U-Haul van the moment Gulliver darted for the two men unloading it. He lunged for the dog but knew it to be a lost cause. He ran faster, following Gulliver, calling his name despite knowing it was useless to stop his overly-social pet. He never worried about Gulliver biting anyway. Gulliver loved everyone – even kids who pulled his tail and stuck toys in his ears. Josue did, however, worry about Gulliver tripping someone with their arms full of boxes or furniture as he exuberantly bounced around them, demanding the love and adoration golden retrievers seemed to receive worldwide.
Josue ran around the back of the van. When he jumped up the narrow loading ramp, he stopped short at the top. One man sprawled on his back on the floor of the van, Josue’s very large dog, straddling him, shoving his muzzle around the man’s arms, his long tongue darting out, bathing the man’s face despite what seemed to be his best effort at warding off the canine kisses. Another man was laughing so hard he leaned against the wall of the truck, doubled over, holding his stomach.
Josue leaped forward and grabbed Gulliver’s collar. “Stop it, Gulliver. Geez, I’m so sorry. Come on.” He tugged, but Gulliver stretched his neck forward, pushing the man’s arm aside for another tongue bath. “Gull, stop. Get off him. Really, I’m sorry.” Josue, glanced up as he rambled at and begged the dog to listen. The man who was laughing, kept laughing. Okay, not mad, but not helpful either.
Borne of frustration, Josue tried a desperate attempt to curb his happy dog. He stepped back and used the tone and command he used when Gulliver got carried away with one of his nieces stuffed animals. “Gulliver! Drop it!”
The sharp command brought the dog out of his licking frenzy. Gulliver’s head snapped up, and he carefully backed away, paws always hitting the floor of the van and not what turned out to be a very handsome man beneath him.
Josue told Gulliver to sit and stay, and then crouched down beside Gulliver’s victim. “I am so sorry. He really means well, I assure you. Are you okay? Did you hit your head? What can I do?” Great, a cute guy is moving into the neighborhood and Gulliver ruined any hope of a casual meeting, maybe a friendship. “I promise he’ll be leashed next time.”
The man slowly moved his arms away from his face. He ignored Josue to tip his head back and glare at the laughing man who’d now subsided to chuckles. “Thanks for the help, asshole,” he said.
Josue looked up at the laughing man and apologized again.
The man stepped forward and then crouched down beside his friend. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “That’s the most attention he’s gotten from another male in a long time. Ain’t that right, little brother?”
Male. Brother. Oh boy! It was an “Oh boy” of both excitement and of disappointment. A potentially gay man… that his dog just mauled with joy.
“Bullshit,” said the little brother waving away the other man. He started to sit up. Josue grabbed an arm and helped him. Once upright, the little brother looked at Josue and stared.
“Speak, Brax,” said the laughing man. He chuckled again and slapped the back of his little brother’s –Brax’s — head. He looked at Josue. “See what I mean. The boy needs a man.” He rolled his eyes. “I hope he’s not offending you with his drooling.”
Josue blinked a couple of times, banishing the feeling of being stuck in a dream. “Uh, no.” He looked at Brax. Interesting name, and yes, that gaze was definitely an I-want-to-fuck-like-bunnies gaze. “Not at all,” Josue said.
“I’m really sorry about Gulliver.”
“Who’s Gulliver?” Brax asked.
“Maybe he did hit his head,” Brax’s brother said. “I’m gonna grab a beer.” He walked around them and out of the van without looking back, and without acknowledging the plaintive whine Gulliver gave him as he skirted the dog. Josue wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard the man chuckling on his way out. Only a brother could be so casual about a potential concussion.
“My dog. He… He likes people.” Josue looked away. He mentally kicked himself for sounding like such a dork.
Brax laughed, bringing Josue’s gaze back to him. “I’m fine. Really.”
“Fine. It was the barrage of doggie breath that almost killed me.” He smiled, and it outshined his brother’s warm laughter. “But if it’d make you feel better, you can apologize with dinner so I don’t have to unpack my kitchen tonight.”
“Oh, sure, of course. It’s the least I could do.”
“And to be straight–” he smirked briefly “—I’m not. I mean…if you invite my brother, I’ll be really disappointed.”
Josue relaxed. The man really wasn’t hurt. Though he didn’t need to worry, his heartbeat still raced. He hadn’t been hit on since he gave up the club scene six months ago. It felt good. It felt better than the best run he ever had.
“I think he would be too.” They laughed together, and then Josue offered his hand, helping the man to his feet. Their hands lingered, warm and inviting. “I’m Josue. I live two houses up the hill.”
“I’m Braxton. And my brother is…” He glanced at the open front door of the house. “Not here, so fuck him.”
A small smile curved Josue’s lips as he thought about who he’d really like to fuck. Sure, the brother was cute – it definitely ran in the family — but Braxton made his heart flutter. Gulliver had chosen well.