Chuck Wendig, the firey pen monkey with a heart of gold and testicles of aircraft aluminum, lost his dog recently, inviting his weekly challenge friends to pay tribute in the form of a story involving a good dog. I'm not a dog guy, which I know makes me basically lacking in my humanity, but there you go. I still had an idea, though, so here goes.
I saw her standing, leaning against the bar facing the rest of the room. She had on a red gown that hugged her curves. Bridesmaid dresses were a running joke, but she looked fine. I got a scotch and soda, then turned to stand near her, facing the same way. I tried to measure my distance, standing close enough to signal affection without assuming intimacy. Her brown hair fell in waves down her back, and her face, though pretty, looked pinched.
"Hi," she offered. Her voice sounded tight, like she wanted to follow her glass of wine with 8 or 10 more.
"No. I'm going to sit down," she said, and walked to a table. The band was piling onto the stage again.
I walked around the table and sat in the chair next to hers, turning it so I faced her. She had her legs crossed, one bare foot pointing at me.
"Shoes killing you?," I offered.
"You have no idea," she said.
"No, I don't look good in heels," I said. She chuckled.
"You one of his friends?"
"Yeah," I admitted. "College. We wrote on the school paper."
"I was Shannon's roommate junior and senior year."
"Aha. Was she as boring as Gary was?"
"Oh, God. When she met Gary, all she did was study. No drunken hookups."
"What about you?"
"What? Hookups? I had my share."
"I did my share, too," I added.
She put her feet together on the floor, her painted toes bright and cheerful. "Sorry," she began.
"No, it's fine," I said. "I understand. Those shoes look great, but not comfortable."
"I only wear shoes like that to weddings."
"Been going to a lot?"
"Oh, my God. This is the fourth this month. I was only a bridesmaid in this one, though."
"That's extra work, isn't it."
"God, yes. More work, more money."
"But you kind of have to do it, huh?"
"Yeah. It's hard to turn someone down for this."
She looked up at me. Her eyes were starting to swim. "Want a refill?"
"Yes, but no." Her voice wavered. "I do, but I think I should stop. I want to drink a lot, and I really shouldn't."
"Bad day, huh?," I offered.
"Well sort of," she began. "It was stressful, but it wasn't just this. It's just that, well...," her voice trailed off. Her chin wrinkled.
"You don't have to tell me," I offered, trying to give her a way out.
"It's my dog, Daisy. I took her to the vet and they called me this morning. There's nothing they can do."
"Oh, no," I said. "That's awful."
"I'm flying back home tomorrow morning, and I just don't know if I can handle it. She was a good dog. My mom got her for me when we moved, and she has been my best friend ever since. I complained about boys to her, I told her all my secrets, I went almost everywhere with her, and she never complained about anything, not once. Want to see her?"
"Of course," I said. She took her phone out of her purse to show me a mutt, looking at the lens eagerly, deciding whether or not the phone was something to eat. "She looks friendly," I offered.
"Oh, she is. She loves everybody...," she said, her voice breaking. "Dammit, I'll ruin my makeup."
"You look fine," I said. "But it has run a little," I added truthfully.
"I assumed. I'll go fix it in a minute. What really bugs me is...I mean," she said, "I'm not dumb. I knew she wouldn't live forever. I just always had it in my head that she was going to meet my first baby. That's just this idea I had. And now she won't. It's just not fair. She was good....I mean why her? Why now? She just started limping, I figured it might be arthritis maybe. But not this. Not cancer. "
She got quiet as the band started playing "American Girl". "Shannon loves this song. I haven't told Shannon. I haven't told anybody. Just you. And you couldn't care less."
"Of course I care. A death in the family is always traumatic."
"Thank you. Every time I bring her up in the office, they all say, 'Well, it's not like it's a baby.' And I'm like, 'I know.' But they don't understand. I haven't had a serious boyfriend since college, I don't know anyone in town! Daisy is my only friend! Who am I going to tell now?" Her full face was fixed and firm, her eyes holding mine as if she expected me to answer.
She stood up. "I'm going to go clean up. Thank you for listening to me. You can go circulate now."
"No, no," I insisted. "I've done about all the circulating I can stand."
"OK," she said. She swallowed her wine in one swallow. "I'll take that refill, then." She slid her shoes on and left.
I drained my drink, then got two more. I had her pegged, watching her not participate in the chatter, assuming she felt she was above it. I could see now that she was more complicated than my simple judgement would allow. She came back out as the band was starting "I Saw Her Standing There". Her face was mostly clean now. I smiled softly, handing her another glass of wine.
"Thanks. Want to dance?"
"I don't...er...I...," I stuttered.
"Oh, come on," she said, slipping off her shoes. "Just follow me," she said. I did.