By Hannah Canon
Quiet. One word that summed up Amy Holmes’ life quite well these days. It was quiet when she went to bed at night, and it was quiet when she woke up in the morning. She rode quietly in her car on her way to work every morning, because between love songs and commercials, it was just too much noise at 7:30 A.M. She quietly cooked a dinner-for-one after work each evening, not even bothering to sit at the table. The kitchen counter worked just fine for one person.
Amy’s life was not always so quiet. It wasn’t until six months ago, when the final divorce papers were signed, that the silence had become deafening. Up until that point, the formerly bubbly and outgoing young woman had been living a very colorful life. She had graduated from college with honors, married her college sweetheart at twenty five, traveled to various corners of the world, and climbed the ladder of success at work. She had the job, the husband, the house, and it seemed as if everyone, including Amy, was just waiting on a few beautiful children to enter the world next. That is why it had come as such a shock when Jason had sat her down and asked for a divorce. His request had sent her reeling. Jason tried to say that it was not Amy’s fault of course, and that he just needed to do some more soul searching before spending his foreseeable future as a husband and father. Four years of dating and four years of marriage – gone. But three days after the initial divorce papers were filed and Amy saw him having lunch and holding hands with their mutual, longtime college pal, Melissa, it all became quite clear. Without her even noticing, Jason had simply fallen out of love with Amy, and fallen in love with someone else.
It had been almost an entire year since then, which Amy found hard to believe. Today looked a little different for Amy because not only was it Friday morning, but it was also her birthday. Where most people would be thrilled to be celebrating a birthday on a Friday, Amy was anything but enthusiastic as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and slipped her feet into her well-worn slippers. She shuffled quietly down the hall to the bathroom, ignoring her phone on the nightstand that was buzzing with “Happy Birthday!” notifications, undoubtedly all from her mom and handful of girlfriends. She sighed as she stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, rubbing her eyes and tucking her long auburn hair behind her ears. Sometimes, she barely recognized herself anymore. Her once youthful, glowing appearance had been replaced with someone who always looked just a little too tired. Today was her thirtieth birthday, and that reality was hitting her like a runaway train. Thirty and alone, was all she could think to herself as she began to get ready for work. A few years ago, she would have expected to be a mother by now, but here she was, divorced and single. She did not even have a goldfish to keep her company in this apartment, as her mother had so kindly pointed out to her in a recent conversation. “You should at least get a cat or something.” After reminding her mom that she didn’t even like cats, Amy had made a silent promise to herself that she would never become the crazy, animal-collector spinster of the family that everyone gossiped about.
Forty-five minutes later, she was slipping on her shoes, grabbing her keys, and locking the door behind her when she felt her cell phone vibrate again. Thinking it was probably her mother demanding an answer as to why she had not responded to the happy birthday message yet, Amy rolled her eyes as she pulled the phone from her jacket pocket. What was on the screen startled her to the point that the phone actually slipped from her grasp and clattered onto the floor. Scrambling to pick it up and making sure that she had seen it correctly, she blinked slowly as she read:
Happy birthday, Amy. Hope you have a great day. I know you will kick your 30’s ass! Hope all is well.
The name and the words on the screen looked friendly enough, but they made Amy’s heart sink. She had not seen or heard from Jason since the final signing of the paperwork that officially ended their marriage, and even though everyone told her it was for the best, she still couldn’t help but feel the sting every time she thought about it. It was as if he had just wanted to erase their eight-year-long chapter together, and forget she ever existed. She decided to wait until she got to work to respond, where she could confide in one of her best friends, Nora. Amy couldn’t help but recognize the fact that this was the first time her heart had felt a spark in months. Was that pathetic? Definitely pathetic, she thought as she pulled into work.
When Amy entered the office, she made a beeline for one desk in particular. She and Nora had been lucky enough to land jobs together right out of college at a local lifestyle and media company. As Amy scurried towards Nora’s desk, she realized that their typically open office floor felt very crowded and noisy this morning. Oh crap! The animal shelter event, she thought with a flash of guilt, looking around at the brightly colored VOLUNTEER t-shirt clad personnel and their four-legged counterparts. The local animal shelter had partnered with them in an attempt to get some of the dogs and cats out of their overflowing shelter, and it had totally slipped Amy’s mind this morning.
“Uh oh,” Nora said with wide eyes, setting down her pen. “I was about to scream happy birthday at you, but you look like you just saw a ghost! What’s wrong?”
Amy immediately spilled the story, showing Nora her phone for proof. “What do I do?” she asked desperately. “Do I say something back? Do you think he misses me?” she said, a little too hopefully.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” Nora said sternly, her brow furrowing. She was always the tough-love friend of the two. “Please don’t forget how much of an insanely selfish jerk he has been. And please don’t let him ruin your birthday!”
“I know,” Amy sighed. “You’re right.”
“Put him out of your mind for a second, because we’ve got some puppies and kitties to love on!” Nora squealed with obvious delight. She whisked a camera off her desk and handed Amy a hot cup of Starbucks. “For your birthday,” she smiled, “Your favorite white chocolate mocha can cure anything.”
For the next two hours, Amy, Nora, and a few of the other writers were busy taking photos of each animal that the shelter had decided to bring in, taking notes about them, and broadcasting them to the community. As they neared the end of the session, Amy flopped down on a nearby chair and took a swig of her now less-than-warm Starbucks. There was a sudden cold, wet sensation on her other hand, which made her jump and almost spill the coffee.
“Sorry!” a breathless animal shelter volunteer said, grimacing at her animal companion’s behavior. The dog at the end of the leash was clearly in control. “He’s really sweet, just kind of rude. We’re working on his manners,” she added, stroking the fluffy honey-colored hair on his ears. He cocked his head at Amy, almost as if to ask why she had not enjoyed his nose in her hand.
Amy smiled. “It’s okay, I promise. He’s really cute. What kind of dog is he?” she inquired, reaching out to let him sniff her hand again. He licked it a few times and wagged his tail furiously, inching closer to her.
“We think he’s a golden retriever, but he might be mixed with something else just based on his size,” the volunteer answered, waving her hand to indicate how tall and broad the young retriever was. “He really likes you!” she giggled, as the dog offered his paw to Amy. “No paw, Brody,” the volunteer said sternly. “She didn’t ask for it.”
Brody obliged by laying down and rolling over on his back, all four paws wiggling in the air as he twisted back and forth on the floor. Amy couldn’t help but laugh at him. “He’s adorable,” she said warmly, “I wish I could commit to a dog right now, but I’m not… I’m not really sure what my long term plan looks like just yet.”
The animal shelter manager had approached their little group and overheard Amy’s comment. “Well,” she said cheerfully, “You can always foster! It’s not a permanent situation like adoption, and it frees up some much needed space in our shelter.”
Amy immediately wanted to reject the idea, just because it seemed so rash and unlike her. Brody stepped forward just far enough to place his big square head directly in her lap. He looked up at her with soulful brown eyes that pulled on her heart strings, and gently wagged his tail. Why not? Amy thought, as a surge of affection for the dog came over her. It’s temporary.
By the following morning, Amy was starting to wonder if she should have agreed to take care of such a willful, stubborn animal. She had been able to leave the office the day before with Brody and his leash in hand, thanks to the shelter manager having “foster parent” paperwork available in her car. Amy’s boss had been delighted and sent her home early, on account of it being her birthday. Nora, on the other hand, had been shocked.
“You did WHAT?” she had asked in disbelief, looking from Amy, to Brody, and back to Amy again. Amy had to coax her into skipping their previously scheduled birthday festivities for the night, which had been a relief for her. She really hadn’t felt like going out to a bar and pretending to be happy about turning thirty anyway. Now, here they were less than twenty four hours later, and Amy was officially the owner of two less socks and one less throw pillow – and the foster parent of one very ornery retriever.
“Bad dog!” she scolded, wrestling the second sock out of his mouth. Brody seemed thrilled that she had finally decided to partake in his efforts to have fun, and growled playfully as he began a game of tug-o-war. Amy finally gave up and fell back on the couch, laughing. “Keep the sock you brat,” she smiled at him and scratched his head.
Amy’s phone buzzed on the coffee table. She picked it up and read:
You missed a good time last night. There were so many guys at the bar! Still can’t believe you ditched me to hang out with a dog 🙂
Amy smiled, knowing that her best friend wasn’t actually upset with her. She hesitantly scrolled further down her inbox and stared at the previous day’s message from Jason. Maybe it was the fact that she had spent her thirtieth birthday alone, or maybe it was this newfound comfort she had found in Brody’s presence. Either way, Amy knew what to say now:
Jason – I appreciate the thought, but please do not reach out to me anymore. Life is moving on. Wishing you all the best.
It felt good. She had decided to look up Jason one last time on Facebook the night before, only to discover that him and Melissa were no longer together. She had then pressed the “block” button, making it impossible to see each other’s profiles, and it almost felt like getting a bit of freedom back. Amy set her phone down and looked up at Brody, who was lovingly tearing her former sock into multiple pieces.
“Hey, wrecking ball!” she laughed. “Wanna’ go for a walk?” Brody scrambled towards the door and barked excitedly, clearly recognizing the phrase. Amy, in leggings and an oversized sweater and not a stitch of makeup on, slipped her running shoes on and grabbed Brody’s leash from the counter, not even bothering to check her reflection in the mirror. It was freeing to have this furry companion, who didn’t care about her appearance in the slightest. They set off down the sidewalk, headed towards the big, open park in town. Brody kept a brisk pace, but Amy found herself keeping up with him easily, with a newfound spring in her step. The sun shined warmly on her face, and she sighed contentedly. It was the best morning in a very long time.
All of a sudden, Brody lunged against the leash and barked. It caught Amy off guard, and the nylon slipped through her hand faster than she could move. He was gone like a bolt of lightning, becoming smaller and smaller on the horizon. Amy felt nothing but pure horror in the pit of her stomach as she ran after him.
“Brody!” she yelled desperately. “Brody, COME!” But he was gone.
Ten exhausting minutes later, Amy caught a glimpse of yellow fur peeking through a cluster of trees. “Brody!” she exclaimed happily. “There you are!” She rounded the corner, expecting to see Brody rolling in the grass on the other side of the pine trees. Instead, a man was holding his leash and stroking him behind the ears.
“Ah, this fella must belong to you. He decided to join me on my morning run,” the stranger laughed and held the leash out for Amy to grab. Brody looked quite pleased with himself.
“Th-Thank you,” was all Amy could stammer while trying to catch her breath. She looked up at the guy’s face and gulped, suddenly realizing how handsome Brody’s new friend was. He was tall, athletically built, and had extremely kind green eyes. His tousled brown hair peeked out from under a baseball cap. He seemed to be looking back at her with a similar appreciation, and cracked a shy smile.
“I’m Mark,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand.
“I’m Amy,” she replied nervously, realizing that his hand felt really good against hers.
Brody sat between them, looking up at them with a golden retriever grin, his tail thumping happily on the grass.
Category: Featured, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing