Excerpt of the Female Led Tale of the Dog Whisperer
Chapter One Introductions
I was on the trail early, my favorite time of day here: cool morning shade, fragrant manzanita, birdsong, and the serene forgetfulness of repetitive exercise. I didn’t see anyone for several minutes and hoped to set a brisk pace, 6.5 miles in two hours. My parents’ dog Nicky would help; she pulls like a locomotive.
Nicky is a 4-year-old shorthaired pointer, rail thin with a big chest and ludicrously fast, tireless as long as she gets enough to drink. She has white fur with large orange-brown spots on her head and back, and smaller ones like freckles over her whole body. I often get compliments about her being as pretty as any show dog.
I came around a bend in the trail. Two women were chatting, three dogs between them. Both seemed older than my 38 years, one seemingly in her late 60s, the other early 40s. The younger woman wore a surgical mask, her eyes jewel-bright.
“Good morning,” I said. The older woman returned my greeting.
“Such a beautiful creature,” the younger woman said, before turning her eyes to me.
She had a curly-haired labradoodle, taller and heavier than Nicky, sheared but for a shaggy topknot. I like to let Nicky socialize but many owners don’t, so every trail greeting can be a negotiation. This woman’s labradoodle was aggressive, sticking its nose in Nicky’s butt as she and the older woman’s smaller dog sniffed each other. Nicky jumped as if goosed. Both women laughed.
“Sorry about that,” the younger woman said. “Chipper can be a bit … assertive.”
“He’s definitely interested,” the older woman said. “That must’ve been like a stick up your poor dog’s butt. I know that look well.”
The younger woman laughed again, more gently. I laughed with her. She wore her long hair in a ponytail, her legs and arms golden-tan. She was sinewy and petite, wearing shorts and a stretchy sparkly top under a translucent white blouse that was open to the waist. She had the most breathtaking legs I’d ever seen, the muscled skin around her knees almost gnarled.
“Your dog is one of those?” she asked, glancing at Nicky’s leash.
“If she gets off-leash, she runs away,” I said. The woman nodded thoughtfully.
Another woman walked up from the other direction with a dog of her own, then a fourth woman jogged up from behind with yet another, so we were suddenly five people and six dogs clumped into a small area, all but Nicky unleashed, with the dogs in something of a sensory frenzy. The first two women greeted the jogger in a way suggesting they knew each other well.
“I’d better keep on,” I said, not wanting Nicky to get overstimulated. “Have a great morning.”
“See you later,” the younger woman said, her eyes intense. The older woman chuckled. The jogger trotted past a minute later but her dog seemed content to walk alongside Nicky.
“Come!” the jogger shouted, now a good 20 yards ahead and not looking back. I figured it would help to stop, so I did. Her dog dithered for two seconds before running ahead, obviously reluctant but quickly disappearing.
I continued on, reaching the turnaround in 59 minutes, knowing the return would be slower even though slightly downhill; I’m not in great shape and would be more tired, while Nicky wouldn’t be pulling as much. I encountered several more older women with dogs along the way plus a female bicyclist I shortened Nicky’s leash for, pulling to one side of the trail as the cyclist came up from behind. She thanked me as she passed. There were three more runners without dogs: a young woman toiling in what looked like a high-school shirt, a young man loping easily in a college cross-country jersey, and another young man with no shirt who looked like he got a lot of strength work in, running more slowly. His crotch had a bulge that was difficult to miss.
Coming back, I thought I glimpsed that shirtless man with the woman who had the labradoodle, walking away together on a cross street close to home. I was exhausted when I finished, not quite meeting my time goal. Nicky seemed tired, too. I cooled off with Gatorade and ice water in the shade, then showered and napped.
Two days later, after a day to recover, I was back on trail with Nicky but starting 45 minutes later, intending to walk the same distance as last time. The later start was a mistake; it gets brutally hot by midday here and Nicky was completely sapped as we neared home. Along the way, I recognized the two female runners. The one with the dog was tall and strongly built, not fast but very obviously fit. She wore sunglasses and when she passed, from the other direction this time, it was difficult to not notice that she was gorgeous. Her dog was smaller and wiry, and took another brief interest in Nicky. The smaller woman, the one who’d been toiling last time, didn’t seem as young as I’d previously thought and had a tattoo covering much of one arm.
I saw the woman with the labradoodle near the end of our walk. Nicky was panting hard, and flagging.
“She needs water,” the woman said.
“I know. We’re only half a mile from home so we should be OK.”
“I’m closer than that. Please come with us, I want to know your dog is all right.” I nodded. “Nicky’s not used to this; my parents can’t walk her now. I’m Drew.” She smiled. “Carmen. Very nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s mine.” I couldn’t see her smile under the mask, but her eyes crinkled in a way that suggested it was broad and genuine. I pulled my cloth mask up from my neck.
Her house wasn’t much closer than my parents’, but it was on the canyon’s edge, with a lower level that felt secluded even if visible to homes on the other side, half a mile away. Lots of shady trees and hedges helped. She led me through her side yard to that lower level, then brought the dogs to Chipper’s water bowl. It was a decadently pleasant spot.
“Chipper, stay,” she said. Chipper whined a little, but stayed. “Let Nicky drink. I’ll get you another bowl. Drew, anything for you?”
“Ice water and something like Gatorade if you have it, please.” She nodded, disappeared inside, and emerged a minute later with a small blue bottle of Powerade and a dog bowl that was mostly full of water. She put it down near Chipper, a few feet from Nicky, said “Good boy,” and Chipper drank.
“Thank you. He’s remarkably well trained,” I said. “I’m a trainer.”
“You seem to be very good.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Nicky is your parents’ dog?”
“Yes. My Dad got her for bird hunting but my mother spoils her rotten. She doesn’t get enough exercise. I try to help when I visit, which helps me, too. I’m pretty out of shape.”
She nodded. “But you seem athletic.”
“I was and probably could be again, if I gave it time and focus.”
“It’s good that you’re walking. I have a weight room. A few others also use it. You’d be welcome.”
The offer felt uncomfortably quick. “Thank you, that’s very generous.”
A young, shirtless man came out with glasses of ice and bottles of mineral water on a tray, plus a bowl of fruit and two small hand sanitizers. He was trim and muscular, with a noticeable bulge at his crotch. He poured a glass of water for Carmen and placed everything else on the small table between us, then retreated inside with the tray. Carmen didn’t acknowledge him.
Her eyes seemed intense again. “No. I’m a therapist.” She removed her mask. We were sitting outside, more than six feet apart, both of us with drinks, neither of us breathing hard. I removed mine, too. If anything, her eyes seemed even brighter without the mask to hide the rest of her face, which was strikingly pretty.
“Where’s home?” she asked. “Denver. Boulder, actually” “Do you have family there?”
“My wife and son. Well, ex-wife now.” “I’m sorry.”
“No need. It was for the best.” “You didn’t want the divorce?”
“By that point it was inevitable. She saw greener pastures.” “She was unfaithful?”
I sighed. “Yes.” “You?”
“No. Never tempted, actually.”
“You’re very good-looking. It’s hard to imagine you not attracting interest. Some women are opportunists.”
“Well, thank you. There’s the occasional flirting, especially in this city, but I haven’t felt ready.”
“Here? Really? Who?”
“Last visit, there was an older woman at the supermarket. She complimented my Dad’s old truck, but really, I think she was interested in me. We chatted for a bit, and yeah, it felt like flirting.”
She smiled. “Interesting. I might know her. Light blonde? Outdoorsy?” I smiled. “Yes.”
“What kind of truck?” “Are you a truck person?”
She paused. “No. A psychologist friend studies female-male interactions. Sometimes, like now, women and men use different vocabularies, which interests me. I studied under her.”
“So you’re more than a dog trainer.”
She shook her head, seeming annoyed that our conversation was straying, or perhaps that I was asking questions rather than just answering. She waited.
“It’s a 1971 Chevy,” I said. “Two-wheel drive.” “Details, please.”
“It was Chevrolet’s standard 1971 light-duty pickup, with fancy trim. I’m not really a truck person either, but I have enough background to give more detail if you were, the way that woman might’ve been.”
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