As I parked my vehicle, I looked over at Cookie, who was looking out the window, panting heavily, and wriggling with excitement. Making sure her leash was secured to the ring on her harness, I opened the door, and off we went.
Cookie is my Chihuahua. A tiny bundle of energy that is, without a doubt, the best thing I retained from the divorce settlement. About three years ago, my employer had decided to open a new office in Florida, and wanted me to transfer from California to help get it set up. It sounded like an adventure that I was going to enjoy. However, the wife soon got homesick, and started making plans to be reunited with our adult children, her friends, and her old job. I came home to discover all this, when she told me she was leaving, and didn't want me to return with her.
End result? She got the house we still owned in California, a good chunk of my 401k, and a clean break. Since the dog always seemed to like me better, she was happy to leave her in Tampa with me. Wow, thanks. Honestly, it was the nicest thing she could have done for me.
Now as a single man, who is a lot closer to fifty than forty, I live in an apartment, and there is no place for a dog to run free and burn off energy. All walks are done by leash, and the human is often seen following the dog, carrying a plastic bag to pick up any "canine landmines" that are then disposed of. We don't want anyone soiling their shoes now, do we? So to help Cookie burn off the endless supply of energy that all tiny dogs have, I took her to a nearby dog park at least three days a week, Saturday always being one of those days.
Over the months, I became acquainted with the "regulars" at the park. Most of them were retired folk, who would gather to socialize while the four-footed friends would run around and play. There was a code of conduct that was silently understood, that you cleaned up your dogs mess, and if they got too aggressive, you made sure to stop it and if need be, muzzle the dog until they learned to be good. There were benches, picnic tables, and even sun-shades set up for all to enjoy.
The main reason I liked this park was due to the fact that it had a separate area for large, as well as smaller dogs. The last thing we wanted was a 95 pound Golden Retriever getting excited and squishing a six pound Yorkie! Watering troughs and toys were there for the dogs to enjoy as well.
Now Cookie is slightly larger than the average "Chi". She weighs eleven pounds, and her fur is the color of honey. Dark and expressive eyes and a pink nose make up her face, and she often looks like she is laughing when she pants. And believe it or not, I love that silly thing greatly. But enough about the dog. Next thing you know, folks will think this is some type of freaky story about sex with animals. It's not, trust me.
Okay, so like I said, over time, we had gotten to know the "regulars" at the park. We would talk, and share stories about family, the dogs, and local events. Often I would find myself playing a game of dominoes with Edgar, a retired cop, while his Schnauzer, Duffy, ran with Mrs. Martinez' Pomeranian, Chloe, across the grass. Maybe Carlos wanted to talk "politics" as his own "Chi", Buddy, chased Cookie around, looking for some "action" (sorry, but she is spayed). We were a friendly bunch.
One Saturday, I strolled in, and noticed a new face. He was dark brown, with long and floppy ears, and legs about three inches long. Cookie ran up to him, and as is the standard doggie greeting, proceeded to sniff his backside. He did the same.
"Robert! You be nice!" The Dachshund paused a moment, looked up, and then resumed getting acquainted with Cookie.
I looked over to where the voice had come from. Seated on a bench, was a woman only a few years younger than I, and I have to admit, delightfully cute. Her hair was a deep brown with red highlights that fell with a loose curl to her shoulders. Green eyes looked up, and smiled as I made my way towards her to introduce myself.
Her name was Andrea, and she had recently moved to the area. Her parents were getting on in years, and she was helping them make the transition into an assisted living community. She had taken an extended leave of absence from her job in order to do this. (It's sort of funny how people will open up and share things with you, if you can also laugh at your dogs at the same time.) After an hour, she stood, called Robert, and we bade farewell to each other. As she made her way to the gates to let herself and the dog out, I could appreciate how the skirt that she was wearing swished back and forth. She was what some called "full figured", but as far as I was concerned, she looked damned hot to me. Pausing just outside the fence, she turned and waved.
I didn't see her again during the week, but the following Saturday, she was once again there with Robert. It seemed that he and Cookie were quite happy to run around together and even got Mrs. Jameson's Boston Terrier, Bandit, to come out of his shell a little bit (he was a shy fellow). The three of them were rolling around in the grass, slobbering all over each other. Thank goodness there was a water spigot and hose to rinse them all off! We talked a bit more, and I could feel that I was growing attracted to Andrea. She had told me that she was also divorced, but had not really dated in the last few years. We commiserated that it seemed that "the kids" were having more fun than we were. Again, after an hour or so, she got up to go.
It went on like this for almost three months. Every Saturday, we would "encounter" each other at the park, flirt lightly, and go home. Now anyone would ask; "What the hell is wrong with you? Ask for her number, at least!" Here's how I finally got it.
Now the park is not too far from a high school. And one Saturday, I guess the school football team was having a "big" game of some type, and the parking lots at the school filled up to the point that folks were using the dog park lot for over-flow parking. While I had managed to find a spot, since I got there early, Andrea didn't. She was forced to park her car on the median, along the road, about half a block over. From where we sat, enjoying the sun and canine companionship, we could hear the sounds of the football game. And as luck would have it, the home team lost. (High school for me was 30+ years ago and several thousand miles away, so I didn't care about the outcome of the game.) Once the game ended, the visitors spilled out, yelling taunts and laughing at the host school. And of course, stupidity ensued. Some kids got into their cars and started driving like idiots and doing "donuts" all over the place. And wouldn't you know it, some asshole lost control, and plowed into several cars along the roadway. One of them belonged to Andrea. Needless to say, she was upset.
Cops, paperwork, calls to the insurance company, a tow truck to the repair yard, and pissed off parents. Luckily for Andrea, someone had taken video of the kid who hit her car with his cell phone camera. The images of the vehicle and license plate were crystal clear. Mommy and Daddy were "thrilled" seeing their Caddy CTS all banged up.
Watching her car being flat-bedded away, Andrea was beside herself. Her insurance would cover a rental vehicle, but she had no way to get home. I decided it was now or never, to step in, and be the nice guy. As it turned out, she didn't live too far from me! Driving Andrea and Robert home (he and Cookie snoozed in the back seat), I told her that I would be happy to help her in any way possible, to help get things taken care of. Andrea thanked me with a quick kiss on my cheek at the front door of her apartment, and we exchanged phone numbers.
I called her Monday, and again on Thursday, to see how things were going, and she told me that things were being handled. Her car was going to be "totaled" since the jerk who hit it had been going so fast that the frame was bent. That's a death knell for any car. She was going to get a check from the insurance company, and then think about car shopping. She still had the rental for another few weeks.
Friday was when the surprise came; "Tom? Could I trouble you for a ride to the park tomorrow? I'm still a little spooked about driving over there." Sure. I can pick you up around 10:00. "Thank you. And maybe you can Cookie can stay for a late lunch?" I answered that I would enjoy that, but only if we stopped at the store on the way home so I could pick up dessert.
And that is what happened. The "regulars" asked Andrea (who was now also one) how things were going, and what was the status of her car? We commiserated about stupid kids, and then she was subjected to all sorts of advice on what new car to get, and how to avoid getting ripped off at the dealership. "Take Tom with you!" they pointed to me. "When a woman goes into a dealership alone, it's like sharks circling and going in for the kill!" They had a point.