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disney's got nothing on the dog park

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The dog park, Sophie knows, is The Best Place On Earth.

It's just a fact; there's no way around it. It's sunny, and it's bright, and there is grass to roll in and a nice flat sidewalk area to prance across. She doesn't get to go there every single day, but when Ryan decides to take her to the park... well.

Sophie has heard the word excitable a lot in her life. She assumes it's the happy, frolicky feeling she gets when Ryan takes out her leash and asks if she wants to go to the park.

Today is a good day, because today is a park day. Sophie has learned how to be good on her leash; she doesn't pull Ryan along, doesn't try to trip him up, just walks and listens when he asks her to heel and to walk and to stay. She's a Good Girl, and Ryan tells her that when he bends over to take the leash off of her once they arrive at the park. She pushes her head up into his hand, asking for a quick scritch, and then she's off and running.

The thing about going to the park--well, the thing other than the grass and the sidewalks and the fresh air and all the amazing smells--is that the park has Other Dogs in it. As a general rule, Sophie loves Other Dogs. There have been a few she hasn't liked, but most Other Dogs are Good Dogs, just like her, and she really likes making friends. Once she's done running around for a little while, she goes over to sniff hi to Robinson and Miss Daisy and Chops, who are resting in an amazing sunny patch of grass.

"New guy, new guy," Chops is saying. He's laying on his back, tail wagging in excitement, and his tongue is hanging out of his mouth. He drools a lot, but apparently that's just his thing. Sophie isn't one to judge. "There's a new guy!"

Sophie looks around, but she doesn't see anyone new, human or dog or any other kind of possible friend. "Where?"

"He was here yesterday," Miss Daisy says, nudging Chops with her nose. "He's not here today. His name is Miller."

"Miller," Sophie says. "He sounds nice."

"He was," Robinson says. Robinson looks kind of miserable; he's far, far too large and furry to be comfortable in the early summer heat. Then again, Sophie is kind of miserable when it's cold enough for Robinson to be happy, but that's because she's not big enough to not get lost in snowdrifts. "His human is nice, too. He gave me a Milk Bone."

Sophie sits up. "A Milk Bone?"

"A Milk Bone," Robinson confirms. "He had a lot of them. Miller must get a lot of Milk Bones."

"I want a lot of Milk Bones," Chops says. His tail stops wagging for a minute; Sophie thinks it's probably because he doesn't have a Milk Bone right now. Just as she's about to reply, though, Chops flips over. "Milk Bones!"

He takes off running, and Sophie watches as he greets a dog she doesn't know. He looks like a Very Good Boy, though, so Sophie trots over.

"Milk Bone Milk Bone Milk Bone," Chops is saying, bouncing around in front of the new dog. "Where is Milk Bone Human?"

"Ryan is by the tree," the new dog says, and Sophie tilts her head, confused, as she looks at the tree. Ryan is there, right where she left him, and he's talking to another human, one that Sophie doesn't know.

"Milk Bone Human," Chops barks, and then he's running for Ryan and the other human, tongue lolling out of his mouth as he goes.

Sophie and the other dog watch as Chops skids to a stop in front of the two humans. He immediately rolls on to his back, showing his belly, and the new human makes the happy mouth sound and reaches into his pocket for--

"A Milk Bone," Sophie realises, her tail beginning to wag. She turns to the new dog. "I'm Sophie. Are you Miller?"

"Yes," Miller says. "And that's my human, Ryan."

Sophie chuffs a little. "My human is called Ryan, too," she says. "That's who your Ryan is talking to."

"Ryan and Ryan," Miller says, wagging his tail. "Humans are so strange. Imagine there being two of you!"

Sophie chuffs again. "Let's go say hi."


Ryan looks up when Chops approaches, rolls over, and promptly plays half-dead. It would be full dead, probably, but he can't stop wagging his tail, and it's making the rest of him vibrate. It's hilarious and adorable, and Ryan laughs a little as he reaches out and scratches Chops' belly. "Hey, buddy."

The new guy--Ryan hasn't caught his name yet, just that he's here with his dog and that he's new in the area--laughs. "Is this your Sophie?"

"Nah, this is Chops," Ryan says, patting his belly fondly once more before looking back up. "He's a local. Sophie's friends with him."

"Oh, Chops," the guy says, brightening a little. "I met his owner the other day, and I got permission to share Miller's goodies." He produces a Milk Bone from his pocket, and Chops gives a happy little yip before flipping himself over and sitting, holding his paw out for a shake. The guy takes it, smiling, and then gives Chops the Milk Bone.

Chops flops to the ground, absolutely no grace in his tubby Puggle body, and starts gnawing on the Milk Bone.

Ryan laughs. "What a charmer."

"Speaking of charmers," the guy says. When Ryan turns to where he's looking, he sees Sophie trotting over, keeping in step with an unfamiliar dog. "Looks like Miller made a new friend."

"That's my girl," Ryan says proudly. He stands up and brushes at his pants, then holds his hand out. "Here, Sophie!"

She perks up and barks a little, then starts bounding towards him. Ryan bends over as she heels perfectly by his side, scratching behind her ears. "Good girl," he says approvingly, and she pushes her wet nose against his wrist before sitting and turning to the new guy.

"So this is Sophie," Ryan says. "Sophie, this is..."

The guy laughs. "Sorry, should've led with that," he says, holding out a hand. "I'm Ryan."

Ryan laughs, too. "This is gonna get confusing," he says lightly. "I'm also Ryan."

"No way," other-Ryan says, grinning. "Small world, eh?"

"Just tell me you don't have a brother named Adam, or this is going to get creepy," Ryan says.

"I don't," other-Ryan promises. "For what it's worth, though, my brothers are named Dylan and Matt, and Dylan's best friend Mikey's two brothers are named Matt and Ryan, so I definitely get the weird factor there."

"Oh no," Ryan says. He's a little delighted, he's not gonna lie to himself here. "I promise I don't have any Dylans or Matts. Or Mikeys, for that matter."

"Just a Sophie?" other-Ryan asks, looking down and smiling.

"Just a Sophie," Ryan agrees. "And you have a Miller? Just a Miller?"

"Right now, yeah," other-Ryan says, looking back up. "We just moved here, actually, just the two of us. I got transferred out here for work."

"Where from?"

"Brooklyn," other-Ryan says, shrugging a little. "I've been told I'm not prepared for the winters here, but I have to tell you, I'm not missing the heat and humidity garbage you get in coastal New York."

Ryan makes a face. "Yeah, I bet not," he agrees. "You've got time on the winter thing, anyway."

"Yeah, I do," other-Ryan agrees. He makes a face after a second. "Okay, if our dogs are going to be BFFs, we need to figure out this name situation. I keep calling you 'other Ryan' in my head."

Ryan laughs. "Yeah," he agrees. "Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It gets shortened to Nuge a lot."

"Ryan Strome. Stromer," other-Ryan says. "Is it okay if I give Sophie a Milk Bone? Gotta make a good impression on your girl, here."

Ryan smiles. "Yeah, go for it. See if you can get her to shake."

Stromer turns to Sophie, who immediately puts her paw up, and Stromer coos and gives her a Milk Bone and tells her how good she is, and how pretty.

Ryan doesn't believe in love at first sight, but he does sort of believe in love at first tail wag, and Sophie licks affectionately at Stromer's hand after chomping the Milk Bone down. It's not a sure thing, but when Stromer looks up at him and smiles, Sophie still wagging her tail, he thinks that it's very possible that he might have a new friend, at the very least.


It's weird, Ryan thinks, that one of the first people he meets in Edmonton is... a guy named Ryan. Dylan would laugh, probably, but Dylan's having a rough time with work, so Ryan's not gonna call him just to chat in the middle of the day.

He calls Matty instead, because of course he does.

"Hey, man," he says, dropping his keys to the table inside his door. Miller's running ahead, apparently desperate now for the water he didn't want in the car. "How's it going in Hamilton?"

"Good, great," Matty says cheerfully. "How's Edmonton? Meet a cute guy at the dog park yet?"

Ryan freezes. "What?"

Matty snickers. "Dude, you take Miller all the time, and dog parks are, like, key places to meet people. You told me you were heading out, like, three hours ago, and now you're calling. I'm not that bad at puzzles, Ry."

Ryan scowls and feels his cheeks heat. "I should've called Dylan."

"What, you think he'd make less fun of you?" Matty asks, and now he's outright laughing. "It's like you don't know him at all."

"He has no room to talk," Ryan mutters. "He asked if he could come visit me, then freely admitted it was so he could hang out with Connor and ignore me completely."

"You still said yes," Matty says.

"Well, of course I did," Ryan says. "What else was I going to say?"

"No?" Matty suggests.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "Good thing you're not the oldest brother. You'd be terrible at it."

"I sure would," Matty says. "Also, by the way, all this deflection means you totally met a cute guy at the dog park. What's his name?"

"You took one psychology course and suddenly you're analyzing me?" Ryan tries.

"I'm gonna count this as clinical hours," Matty replies. "Is his name Bill?"

"Uh, no," Ryan says, "Where'd you come up with Bill?"

"So there is a guy," Matty says triumphantly. "Dude, I'm gonna be the best psychologist ever."

"By tricking shit out of your clients," Ryan says ."Great. That seems ethical."

"I will keep guessing," Matty says. "I will start with the names of every dude you've ever had a crush on."

"Yikes, no," Ryan says immediately. "Don't laugh."

"Why would I--"

"His name is Ryan," Ryan says.

There's a moment of silence, and then Matty says, "I'm gonna just," and Ryan jumps at the noise as Matty's phone hits the table and he starts laughing in the background.

"You're an asshole," Ryan sighs, knowing Matty can't hear him. He smiles a little into his phone anyway.


Sophie loves the dog park and Ryan knows it, but honestly, he can't deny that he's just as excited to head there the next day as she is. It's not like he made plans to met up with Stromer or anything, and he has no idea what Stromer's schedule with Miller is, but in his head, he won't see the cute guy from the dog park if he doesn't go to the dog park, so he packs Sophie's frisbee and some of her favourite duck chews and heads out.

Stromer's not there when Ryan gets there, but Ryan can cope. He nods to Dean and Miss Daisy, then pauses before deciding that yeah, he can get into a conversation with Ruthie. Robinson is splayed out at her feet, looking like he's napping in the least comfortable position possible, but he wags his tail slowly when Ryan approaches.

"Hey, Ruthie," Ryan says, waving his hand as he walks over.

Ruthie looks up at him, and her face breaks into a smile. "Ryan, honey. How have you been? How's Miss Sophie?"

Ryan sits down and makes nice for a while as Sophie does her sniffing routine with Robinson. She's a pretty curious dog; she really likes investigating the world around her, and she's pretty well behaved, so Ryan has no issues letting her figure things out for herself. It means he gets to make friends with some other dog owners, and being able to catch up with Ruthie now is relaxing.

"Gerald thinks Robinson needs a friend," Ruthie sighs, rolling her eyes a little. "As if we need to be adding another pet to our household at our ages."

"Well, maybe you could find an older pet," Ryan suggests. "Someone who doesn't have puppy energy. That would be more Robinson's speed, anyway."

"I was thinking a cat," Ruthie says, grinning conspiratorially. "He wants another pet so badly? Make it a meowing one."

Ryan laughs. "An older cat, then," he says. "One that knows what a litter box is and doesn't think climbing window screens is a good time."

"Oh, that sounds like a story," Ruthie says, laughing.

"A friend of mine had cats growing up," Ryan says, shrugging a little. "One of the little ones saw a bird and climbed the whole screen door to get on level with it, then yelled because she couldn't figure out how to get down."

"Oh dear," Ruthie says, still smiling. "Well, I don't think either of us wants to be prying cats off of screens, so I suppose we'll write kittens off of our theoretical list."

"Good choice," Ryan says, laughing along with her. "So is anything else new going on? What have I missed?"

"Oh, we have a new dog here," Ruthie says, gesturing to the open field. "I don't know if you've met him yet. His name is Miller, and his young man is also named--"

"Ryan, yeah," Ryan finishes. "We met yesterday. Sophie was thrilled to meet someone who carries Milk Bones around for fun."

"Robinson, too," Ruthie agrees. "He was--no, Robinson, I don't have any Milk Bones. Sorry, sweetie."

"Oh, hey, I actually brought treats," Ryan says, pulling the duck chews out of his pocket. "They're dried duck. Can he have some?"

"Oh, sure thing," Ruthie says, giving him a smile. "He'll love a treat, I'm sure."

Ryan shakes a treat out and holds it for Robinson, who has lumbered to his feet. He's an absolutely massive animal with all the energy of a sloth, which is pretty great, if you ask Ryan. He's glad for Ruthie's sake that he doesn't have Chops' energy; Chops would probably pull Ruthie right over, and Robinson weighs easily three of Chops. Ruthie doesn't need that, not with her bad knees.

Robinson takes the treat gracefully; Ryan has to give Sophie one then, too, and she's... well, slobbery, but Ryan didn't fear for any of his fingers, so honestly that's good enough. He's patting her head while she chews when he sees a newly familiar doggy face.

"Miller, hi," Ryan says, holding his hand out and looking around. "Where's Stromer, huh? Where'd you leave him?"

"Nuge!" Ryan hears, and he's already smiling as he turns. Sure enough, Stromer is jogging towards them, tee shirt pulled nicely over his very, very toned chest. Not that Ryan's noticing.

Ruthie coughs. "Well, Robinson and I ought to be going," she says, and when Ryan turns, she's smiling slyly at him.

Ryan feels himself blush. Great. He's been caught staring by an octogenarian. She stands and holds her hand out, and Robinson picks up his leash and hands it to her, then turns to stare Ryan deadass in the eye for a solid five-count before turning to slowly start leading Ruthie home. Ryan sighs a little. Make that an octogenarian and her dog.

"Bye, Ruthie," Stromer says as he comes to a stop next to Ryan. "See you and Robinson tomorrow!"

"Bye, dear," she says, waving. "You boys have fun, now!"

Stromer turns to Ryan and shrugs a little. "I mean, it's a dog park, so I think the idea is for the dogs to have fun, right?"

Ruthie laughs as she walks away, and Ryan hopes his face isn't doing what he thinks it's probably doing, which is blushing so hard he probably looks sunburnt.

"Uh, Nuge," Stromer says, frowning. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Ryan says quickly. So much for hoping. "Hey, I brought some, uh." He looks down at Miller; he has no idea what Miller's treat word is. "T-r-e-a-t-s for the dogs. They're duck chews, and I was wondering if Miller wanted one?"

"Oh, sure," Stromer says, and wow, his smile is kind of a lot. "Hey, Miller, do you want a cookie?"

Cookie, Ryan thinks a little hysterically. That's too cute, and he's going to melt, and not just because it's summer in Edmonton.

Miller starts bouncing around, though, and soon enough Ryan's distracted, laughing as he gives Miller his cookie and Sophie another treat. They start chasing each other around when they finish eating, and Ryan gestures to the spot where Ruthie had been sitting.

"I brought a frisbee, but I don't think she's gonna need it today," Ryan comments as Stromer sits. "Friends are better than toys, right?"

Stromer laughs. "Sometimes friends are better with toys," he says. "Miller used to play with this dog in Brooklyn who had a rope, and they just played tug of war until they were both too tired to move."

"Oh, man, that sounds awesome," Ryan says, smiling. "We should see if Miller can teach Sophie how to play. I tried, but she's too good at dropping things when I take them out of her mouth, so..."

"Oh no," Stromer says, grinning at him. "You tug but there's no war?"

"Exactly," Ryan confirms. "Maybe if she was playing with another dog, she'd actually try for it."

Stromer laughs. "I'll bring a rope next time," he promises. "Speaking of, uh. Are you and Sophie here every day?"

"Not every single day, much to Sophie's dismay, but pretty much," Ryan confirms. "I freelance, so I make my own hours most of the time, and that means that Sophie dictates my schedule."

"Nice," Stromer says. "I'm the branch social media executive for a sporting goods chain, which is basically the fancy way of saying I run around and take product-in-use photos to put on the company Twitter. I'm out and about a lot of the time, and they don't care if I have Miller with me, so here we are."

"That's cool," Ryan says. "Hey, d'you want to swap numbers? That way we coordinate on the tug of war playdate."

"Yeah, good call," Stromer says easily, pulling his phone out and handing it to Ryan. "Text yourself?"

Ryan squats and takes a photo of Sophie, then sets it as his contact photo before sending himself a text. Stromer's laughing at him, so Ryan grins as he pulls his own phone out and snaps a photo of Miller to use for Stromer's contact photo.

"There," Ryan declares once everything is set up. "Now we know the important details."

"Good thinking," Stromer says. His cheeks are a little red, either from laughing so much or from the sun, and Ryan decides not to think too much about which option it might be. That way lies madness, probably.


Texting with Nuge is surprisingly fun; Ryan texts with lots of people, most of them for work, but there's something about hearing the text tone that he set for Nuge that actually makes him smile when a message comes in.

"It's your gay spidey sense telling you something," Dylan says when Ryan mentions it to him. "Do you need me to interpret it for you? Because honestly, Ry, you cannot be that bad at feelings by this point in your life. Give me a little hope here."

Ryan snorts. "He's cute," he says as blandly as he can manage, which is underselling it to an almost criminal degree. "He's cuter with his dog. Sue me."

"Nah, too busy suing other people right now," Dylan says breezily. He's moving back and forth between a firm in Glendale and a firm in Tucson, and Ryan knows that the Glendale job is the one Dylan really wants, but he's doing so well in Tucson that Ryan kind of privately hopes they let him stay there for a little while, if only so he can get some good experience before really making a push for it. "I'll see if Connor has any openings, though."

"Don't actually sue me," Ryan says, rolling his eyes a little. "I'm a little busy for that."

Dylan snorts. "Doing what? Not asking cute other Ryan out?"

"I should've called Matty," Ryan gripes.

"Yeah, sure, call the future shrink, that's definitely not gonna get you twenty questions-ed to death," Dylan says. Ryan can tell he's being laughed at, at this point. "Just ask him to dinner. Either he says yes or he says no, and it's not like you're super invested in him right now, so if he says no, it won't hurt. It'll sting, but it won't hurt."

His voice is gentle by the end, and Ryan winces a little. He'd been transferred out of the Brooklyn office, yeah, and management had said it was strictly a personnel decision and that they really thought Edmonton would be a good career move for him, but Ryan's pretty sure that there's nothing coincidental about it coming less than two weeks after he'd confessed his huge crush on the head of the marketing team. John had been gracious in letting him down, but it hadn't been a good time.

"Maybe you're right," he says to Dylan. "I don't know. Maybe I'll give it a shot. We're getting together at the park tomorrow to try to teach his dog how to play tug of war."

"Give it a shot," Dylan says encouragingly. "And hey, if it goes south, I'll be there in a week to visit Connor anyway, and we can find you a new dog park."

"I like my dog park," Ryan whines.

Dylan snorts. "You've been there for two weeks," he says. "You're not married to it. But hey, if you play your cards right, maybe you can get married in it!"

"That's it, I'm calling Matty," Ryan says, and he definitely hangs up on Dylan, but he's smiling as he does it.


Tug of war day is actually perfect, weather-wise; it's about 27 degrees, but there's a nice breeze, so it's actually an awesome day to be outside. Ryan makes sure he puts sunblock on before clipping Sophie's leash to her collar and picking up his bag and then they're off, heading to the park.

He's actually going a little early on purpose; Stromer agreed to bring Miller and the rope around eleven, but Ryan gets there a little before 10:30. He got a new thesis editing contract last night, so he printed out the first few chapters and bound them in a folder so he can pre-read before he starts editing. He's not a lawyer at all, so he definitely wants to get a handle on the language and style before he starts making wholesale changes to a legal document. The most important part of this, naturally, is staking out a good reading spot, so Ryan lets Sophie off her leash and looks around. His favourite tree is occupied, but there's another one not too far away that has an adequate amount of shade, so Ryan heads for that one and gets his things set up.

Stromer arrives with Miller just as Ryan finishes, and he raises an eyebrow. "Picnic lunch?"

"Nah," Ryan says, patting the folder with his papers in it. "I'm multitasking today. If you don't mind me being kind of boring, I thought I'd get a little ahead while the dogs are playing."

Ryan has to be imagining the way Stromer looks a little disappointed. "So I'm playing teacher, huh?"

"No, no way, not on your own," Ryan says, laughing. "I'll help you with the beginning parts, but once they take off, I need to read at least a few pages of this. I've been hired to edit a thesis, and if I do well on it, it could open up a whole new branch of clients for me, so I wanted to get a head start today." He smiles a little. "I brought a blanket big enough to share, though, if you want to hang out while I read."

"Oh, okay," Stromer says, and he's back to smiling. "Let's teach Sophie how to play, and then we can both work for a little while. I always have photos to edit."

"On your phone?" Ryan asks. There's no wind, but he still makes sure his folder is tucked carefully under his bag before they walk out into the open field.

"Yeah," Stromer says, grinning. He's holding a thick, bundled-up piece of rope in his hands, and he starts unwinding it as they walk. "There's all sorts of apps, man. I'm not gonna do anything super impressive, but I can do some basic stuff without my laptop."

"Awesome," Ryan says, smiling. "I'm glad I'm not gonna be a buzzkill, then."

Stromer laughs and drops one end of the rope, letting it dangle in front of him, and Ryan notices Miller focus in on it like a cat with a laser pointer. "Look, we're gonna give Miller someone to play tug of war with, and that's definitely going to save my shoulders," he says. "If I didn't have work to do, I'd just, like, nap on your blanket or something. This is great."

"Well, it is a blanket," Ryan says as Miller trots over. Sophie follows, seemingly interested but unsure, and watches as Miller grabs the rope. "If you feel the need to nap..."

"I'll keep that in mind," Stromer says. Miller starts tossing his head back and forth, clearly trying to get control of the rope, and Stromer laughs and grabs it with both hands, pulling back. Sophie whines a little, so Ryan crouches down next to her.

"It's a game, Soph, it's okay," he says, petting her calmly. "Miller is a good boy, right? Good boy, Miller!"

Miller drops the rope and turns, wagging his tail, and Stromer laughs. "He likes the attention."

"Good boy, Miller," Ryan repeats, holding his hand out. Miller comes over for some pets, and Sophie looks back and forth between the rope and how Ryan is petting Miller.

"Hey, Sophie," Stromer says, shaking the rope a little. "Get it, Sophie, c'mon, get the rope!"

She whines again, looking back at Ryan.

"Go ahead, Sophie," he says. "Good girl, get the rope."

"Come on, Sophie girl," Stromer says. "Good girl, Sophie."

Sophie takes a step towards Stromer, then another, craning her neck to sniff at the rope. Miller sits by Ryan, panting a little, watching as Sophie delicately takes the rope in her mouth.

"Good girl," Stromer says encouragingly, and Sophie's tail starts to wag. "What a good girl, Sophie!"

"Try pulling a tiny bit," Ryan suggests, and as soon as Stromer does, Sophie drops the rope and looks over at Ryan, who laughs. "I was worried about that. I brought a ball for them to chase, if push comes to shove."

"Let's try again," Stromer says, a look of determination settling onto his face. It's... really nice to look at, Ryan decides, and then he looks away hurriedly.

Miller whuffs softly as Stromer shakes the rope again. He knocks into Sophie a little, then takes the rope in his mouth, tugging gently on it for a moment before getting into it and starting to really go for it.

"Miller, calm down," Stromer says, which is a new command to Ryan, but Miller stops wrestling after a few seconds. He doesn't drop the rope, just stands there wagging his tail, and Stromer squats down. "Sophie, look. You want the rope?"

"Go ahead, girl," Ryan says. "Get the rope."

Sophie walks slowly to Stromer's side, then does the rope-sniffing thing again, and when Stromer puts the rope on the ground, she picks it up.

Miller makes a noise around his end of the rope, not quite a growl, and tugs, and Sophie makes a similar noise and holds on.

"Whoa," Ryan says, eyes wide. "She didn't drop it."

"I'm gonna back up now," Stromer says. He sort of crab-walks back to where Ryan is sitting, and they watch as Miller shakes his head, pulling harder on the rope, and he can tell they're both holding their breath and watching Sophie. She stands still for a few seconds, but then she makes her play-growl nose and starts yanking on the rope.

"It worked," Stromer says, bumping his shoulder into Ryan's. "Look! She's playing tug of war!"

"She's, uh," Ryan says, laughing. "Is Miller letting her win because she's a newbie?"

"Nope, he's just a giant wimp," Stromer says, grinning broadly. "She's way stronger than him. This is awesome."

"It is," Ryan agrees. "Thank you. This is so great."

"I'm glad I could help out," Stromer says, knocking their shoulders together. "And like I said, Miller having a tug of war friend saves my joints, so I'm really helping myself out here, too."

Ryan grins and doesn't say anything, just watching the dogs play.


Miller and Sophie do their tug of war thing well enough to leave them without direct supervision, so Ryan follows Nuge back to his blanket and sits down. He really does have a new batch of photos to edit, but it doesn't take him long; nobody's expecting him to create high art, and honestly, he's mostly just putting funny face filters on the guys who had come out for the lacrosse stick launch event last night. It means that he finishes well before Nuge does, and he has to find something to distract himself so he doesn't just stare at Nuge while he works. He's got a few games on his phone that he could play; he could also go take a more active role in playing with the dogs. They seem to be tiring themselves out, though, and Ryan doesn't want to distract himself too much, so he opens his texts and finds the one with his brothers. tug of war lesson went well!

Matty replies first. is that a euphemism???

Dylan's message pops up half a second later, ask him out oh my GOD, followed immediately by ew matty why would you ask that???

Ryan rolls his eyes a little. maybe i WILL ask him out.

He should have known better, honestly, because Dylan and Matty start alternating yelling DO IT at him, which is the opposite of helpful. Still, though, it's enough to make him put his phone down and just sort of enjoy the view. The actual view, he firmly tells the part of his mind where Dylan and Matty are snickering at him.

Ryan notices after a few minutes that Nuge seems to be stealing little glances at him when he thinks Ryan isn't looking, and it's not confirmation of anything, but it gives Ryan the courage to take a deep breath. "So, uh," he says. "Tell me to shut up if you're super involved in what you're doing, but what exactly are you reading?"

Nuge laughs a little. He doesn't put the folder down entirely, but he does lower it so it's resting in his lap. "I'm a freelance editor," he says. "There's a pretty good law school here, and I was contacted by a guy doing a post-JD thesis on international politics for publication. It's a great field to break into, but I think I'm gonna need to get some sort of legal dictionary, because some of this is just way over my head."

Ryan blinks a little, because sure, it's possible, but... "Post-grad work in international politics," he repeats. "This guy wouldn't happen to be named Connor, would he?"

Nuge stares at him. "Uh," he says. "Yes?"

"Oh my god," Ryan says, starting to laugh. "That's... Connor McDavid? Tall, kinda lanky, nice enough shoulders, scraggly beard?"

"You know him," Nuge says, smiling. "That's kind of hilarious, wow."

"He's engaged to my brother," Ryan says. He leans back, tipping his head back and laughing. "This is absolute gold, holy shit."

Nuge is laughing now, too. "Which brother?"

"Dylan," Ryan says. He sits back up, but he's still grinning. "Matty's still in college, but Dylan's doing internships with a couple of firms in Arizona. He and Connor have known each other since high school, and they got engaged before law school. The wedding is back in Toronto this fall."

"Wow," Nuge says, smiling right back at him. It makes him look like he's sharing something with Ryan, the quirk of his lips, and Ryan decides, yeah, fuck it. He's gonna ask Nuge out.

"So, uh," he says, and that's when Miller comes tearing up out of nowhere, barks once, and grabs the folder with Connor's thesis in it, then proceeds to do the rope-stealing head shake, sending papers flying everywhere.

"Miller," Ryan shouts. and Miller drops the folder, turning to Ryan, tail wagging as he pants. "No! Bad dog!"

Miller stops wagging his tail slowly, whining as he tilts his head at Ryan.

"No, no," Ryan says firmly, pointing at the papers. "That's bad."

Nuge laughs softly as he gathers up his papers. "It's not a big deal, I promise," he says. "Like, obviously that's not a habit you want him to get fond of, but it's really not a problem. I'm not marking this copy, and I have the whole thing in a PDF at home. Don't yell too much."

"I'm so sorry," Ryan says, shaking his head and helping Nuge grabs the last few papers. They're kind of spitty, which is gross, but Nuge doesn't seem to mind as he shoves them back into his folder. "Look, let me buy you dinner tonight. To make up for it."

"You really don't have to," Nuge says, smiling at him. He's putting the folder in his bag, which means he's probably going to leave soon, and Ryan needs to do this now or he'll ever get the courage to do it again.

"Then let me buy you dinner because I'd really like to buy you dinner," he says. "Somewhere dogless, and we can... talk, maybe. If you're interested?"

Nuge's smile started getting wider when Ryan started his babbling, and now he's full-on grinning. Ryan tries pretty hard not to let on that his heart is doing somersaults, but he has no idea if it's actually working or not. "You want to take me out?"

"I do, yeah," Ryan says. "If you don't want to, that's cool, no hard feelings." He doesn't say anything about Dylan's offer to find him a new dog park; he's pretty sure that it's not gonna go badly enough to make that necessary, anyway.

"I want to," Nuge says, still smiling. "That sounds awesome, actually. I'm free tonight, unless you want to wait and do something later this week."

"Tonight," Ryan says hastily, feeling his own smile start stretching across his face. "Yes. Definitely tonight."

"And no dogs," Nuge adds. "Sophie can be at home on her own for a little while. How does Miller do without supervision?"

"He will survive," Ryan says firmly. "Meet me here at, like, seven? There's a place that does really good sandwiches, and it's not too far to walk from here."

Nuge smiles at him. "Okay," says. "It's a date."


The dog park is, yes, The Best Place On Earth. Sophie has known this for a while, and now she gets to visit it all the time, every single day. It's pretty great, really, and she likes playing tug of war with Miller and wrestling with Miller and curling up in the same dog bed with Miller, even if having Another Dog at her apartment had been a little strange at first.

And another Ryan, but that's been pretty good, really. Even if he doesn't actually give them Milk Bones all the time.

She's glad, now, because she and Miller are in the nice cool shady spot in the park, under the tree where their Ryans like to sit and do human things with papers and phones and sometimes each other. Her Ryan had given her and Miller nice, big bones to chew on, and Miller's Ryan put out bowls of water, and now they're sitting together touching paws and talking to each other, and Sophie thinks: the dog park was already The Best Place On Earth, but here, with Miller and their Ryans, it's somehow even better than that.