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As Fine a Fellow as he Looks

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Raymond Holt could not fully picture Kevin Cozner without a dog.

His husband always had a dog, as long as Raymond had known him. When they’d met, Kevin introduced him to an elderly papillon named Isabelle, whom he’d had since he was a teenager. Despite her tiny stature and demure behaviour, Kevin sometimes called her Isabella the She-Wolf, for she was “beautiful, regal, and married to a gay man.”

Raymond chased Kevin for weeks before they officially became a thing. Then, only a month into their relationship, Raymond was there when Kevin had to make the difficult decision to let Isabelle pass. It was the first time Raymond saw Kevin cry, or lose composure in any way.

It was a bit of a trial, to be honest. Kevin pushed Raymond away after that, needing space to grieve, not ready to allow anything else into his heart lest he suffer the sting of loss once more. He did Raymond the kindness of writing a letter explaining his decision to end their courtship, and giving Raymond his blessing to pursue other men. They had not been courting for very long, after all. They hadn’t even fallen into bed with each other yet, which was almost unheard of for gay men their age, if they were to believe the gossip amongst their peers.

But Raymond had found himself unwilling to return to his pre-Kevin life so soon. He was not oblivious to his many options. Despite being a police officer, an occupation seemingly at war with the gay community of the ‘90s, he knew he was, as the kids would say, a catch. But he was picky. He wanted Kevin.

Raymond had grown up showing and receiving almost no outward affection to or from his mother. He knew, of course, that she loved him deeply. It just wasn’t their way to show it to each other in things like words or hugs or laughter or tears. That burden fell exclusively to his younger sister, Debbie.

Mother hadn’t even cried when Father died, and neither had Raymond. At least, not where the other could see. Debbie cried, wailing loudly, beating her little fists on the floor and demanding Daddy’s return. But she was only three at the time. When she got older, she barely remembered the tragedy at all.

Kevin was a grown man. Raymond had never had a connection with another man like that, especially not so fast. Accompanying a lover to a veterinarian’s office and holding him while he sobbed in anguish was not something for which Raymond had any applicable skills. But, to his surprise, he did not mind doing it. He got a glimpse of just how deep and strong a grown man’s love could be. He wanted to feel that way.

So he promptly wrote Kevin back, indicating that he would wait as long as Kevin wanted, and that Kevin should feel no pressure in responding.

“You should get him a new dog!!!” Debbie shouted excitedly on one of her wine-soaked city-and-brother visits. She was 21, and she lived like it. Down from Sarah Lawrence for the weekend, which usually meant one night of wild carousing with her high school girlfriends, one night of gay bars and heavy drinking with Ray, and one quiet, hungover Sunday lunch with Mother.

But there were no gays bars that night. Ray was too morose. “I absolutely will not give him another dog,” he slurred, addled from Debbie’s regrettably cheap wine. So addled he sat directly on the floor, in fact, decorum completely abandoned to the wind. He was 27 and depressingly single, and worst, pining for a man he’d only dated briefly.

“Why noooooot,” Debbie whined, rolling about dramatically and drunkenly on the floor.

“He is in mourning,” said Raymond. “He is not even ready to court, much less have another canine companion.”

“Maybe that’s just what he told you,” Debbie said into the floorboards. “So he wouldn’t have to dump you for real.”

Raymond said nothing.

“And it would be sooooo cute,” Debbie went on. “And romantic! Put a big velvet bow on a puppy. It’ll be like a Kay’s commercial! Every kiss begins with Kaaaay.

Then she got up, sprinted to his bathroom, and vomited.

The next morning, she sheepishly apologized for her drunken words, which was a worryingly common occurrence for Debbie. “I’m sure he wasn’t just saying that. You’re right. He probably does need space.”

Raymond, aching in the head, just stared at his plain toast, with no appetite to eat it.

Debbie bit into cold pizza she had ordered the night before and left open on the counter. “Definitely don’t get him a dog. That would be some insane romcom stalker shit.”

“I was not planning on it,” said Raymond. “I am quite inured to your disastrous romantic advice while intoxicated.”

Debbie barked a laugh. She leaned her elbows on the counter and eyed him while she ate more pizza. “You don’t have to wait, though,” she finally said. “You’ve still got your life to live. Get out there, get down with your bad self.”

Her sober romantic advice was always better than her intoxicated romantic advice, so he took it. He took his bad self on several dates, but they were all, regrettably, as Debbie would put it, duds. At least when Raymond compared them to Kevin, which he did, frequently and unfavourably.

About three months after he last saw Kevin, Raymond sat down to do the New York Times crossword puzzle, and soon realized all the answers were dog-themed. Star on the heels of Orion (Sirius,) and The most loyal in all Shibuya (Hachiko,) and Welsh guardian of babes (Gelert.) When Raymond got stuck on a clue— as fine a fellow as he looks— Raymond picked up the phone and called Kevin, without even realizing it.

It was the first of several embarrassments of knowledge when Kevin informed him that as fine a fellow as he looks meant Odysseus’ loyal dog Argos— obviously! Together, they worked out the rest of the puzzle in roughly twelve minutes before broaching the elephant in the room.

“I wasn’t ready to call you, and I was certain you’d have moved on,” said Kevin. “But I’m very glad you called me instead.”