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Puppy love

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“Hi, I'm calling about the puppies... I was wondering if they're still available?” Robert asked, crossing his fingers the answer would be yes.

Seb had been asking for a puppy for years, and Robert had always said no, but now they’d moved into an actual house of their own with a big enough garden for a dog to play and run around in, he’d decided to surprise Seb with a puppy for his birthday.

Only after a quick search online, he’d come to realise October wasn’t the best time for puppies, and the ones he did find were all from dodgy breeders, asking a fortune and telling him they’d meet him in a car park somewhere or bring the puppy to his house.

He’d read enough warnings about puppy mills not to fall for that.

After a few weeks of careful research (always on his phone, never on his computer so Seb wouldn’t accidentally see something he shouldn’t) he’d found a litter not far from where they lived, and the pictures online seemed promising, showing the puppies with their mum and an actual address and phone number with the ad.

“They are.” The woman who answered the phone told him. “There are two left but I have someone coming to see them tomorrow, so you have to be quick.”

“Right. Could I come by tomorrow too then?”

“Sure. The other person is coming around noon. Is that alright for you too?”

“Yes, absolutely. I'll be there at noon.” Robert told the woman and took a minute to make sure he got the address right before hanging up.

He sat back in his chair and smiled to himself picturing Seb's face when he brought the puppy home on his birthday.

The next day, Robert was running late and cursed the world and everyone in it. Work had been hell all morning and when he left to go see the dogs, he’d gotten stuck behind a moving van, without a way around.

It was almost a quarter past when he rang the doorbell at the address he’d written down.

He heard barking coming from inside the house so he figured he was in the right place.

The door opened and a blonde woman of around his age, maybe a little older, gave him a friendly smile.

“Hi, I’m Robert, we spoke on the phone yesterday? About the puppy?”

“Oh hi, I thought you’d changed your mind.” She extended her hand to him. “I’m Vanessa, come on in.”

Robert shook her hand and followed her into the house.

“Yeah, sorry, traffic was a bit of a nightmare.”

“Oh tell me about it. My sister is picking my son up from school because I wasn’t sure I’d make it back in time if I did it myself.” She told him as they walked into the living room.

There was a play pen set up for the puppies with various toys strewn across the floor.

“Looks like you won’t have to take both of them after all.” She called out to a man currently being used as chew toy and climbing frame by a bunch of puppies.

The man looked up and smiled and Robert’s breath caught in his throat. He had the most beautiful blue eyes he’d ever seen and managed to look adorable with a puppy yanking on the hood of his jacket, while another one played with his shoe laces.

“That’s too bad.” He said laughingly. “Two of these monsters would have been fun.”

“Yeah… sorry to disappoint.” Robert managed to say.

“Well just step over the baby gate and have a cuddle.” Vanessa told him and it took Robert’s brain a moment to realise she meant the dogs. “We put different colour collars on them, the one with the green and the one with the pink collar are still available. Unless you’ve made your choice already, Aaron?”

“Oh, uh no, not exactly. They’re all cute.”

Robert carefully stepped over the gate and sat down next to the man.

“Hi, I’m Robert.” He said and they shook hands. “Uhm… I want one for my son for his birthday in a few weeks… but if you have a favourite, that’s completely fine. I’ll just take the other.”

Aaron gave him a smile.

“No, not really. I’m fine with either, really.” He told Robert. “But that’s a pretty amazing gift. I know I always wanted a puppy but my parents never got me one.”

“So now you’re taking the opportunity to get one yourself?” Vanessa asked jokingly.

“Exactly.” Aaron laughed.

They played with the puppies for a while and Robert had to admit to himself he was starting to like the puppy with the green collar most.

It was a happy and energetic little thing and chased after the toy Robert threw to the other side of the pen.

“I think I’ve made my choice… I like this little guy.” He looked back and forth between Vanessa and Aaron. “If that’s alright with you?”

“Sure. I think this one chose me anyway.” Aaron said, scratching the puppy that had made itself comfortable in his lap behind its ears.

After playing with the puppies some more, they both got up and sat down with Vanessa to go over the details.

“We just want them to go to good homes.” She told them. “Well my wife says she doesn’t care as long as I get rid of them, but I know she cares.” Vanessa laughed a little and turned to Robert. “So tell me about you. You do have time for a dog, right? You mentioned a job…”

“I co-own a haulage firm… but I’m my own boss and I can work from home a few days a week.” He started. “My son and I just moved into a new place with a garden and there is a park just a few minutes’ walk away. And my mother and sister live nearby too so they can help out too. And I've looked around for a dog walker or doggie day-care for when they're busy.” Robert rambled.

Vanessa smiled.

“Sounds like you've thought of everything.” She turned to Aaron. “What about you?”

“I'm... back with my parents for the time being after me and my boyfriend broke up. It was his house so I had to move out.” He explained and Robert envied him a little for being able to just reveal that part of himself to a total stranger. Robert wasn’t exactly closeted himself, but the bi pride bumper sticker on his car and the pin on his leather jacket at home, were about as visible as he was comfortable with being around strangers. Even if Vanessa had mentioned a wife instead of a husband. “But I'm looking for my own place and I definitely want to be close to the dog park and hopefully have a little garden.”

They chatted some more about their lives and scheduled a date to come back and take their dogs home.

“Is it ok if I bring my son next time?” Robert asked. “It's his birthday present.”

“Of course.” Vanessa replied. “We'll see you both in a few weeks then.”

Robert went home, feeling a lot lighter and happier than he had on the way over, and it wasn’t just the puppies that had improved his mood.

He decided to treat Seb to chips and let him stay up a little later than he should, watching his favourite films.

The boy didn’t question his dad’s good mood and just made the most of it.

A few weeks passed and Seb kept dropping hints about his birthday, while Robert pretended not to know what he was talking about.

One afternoon when he was out shopping for dog supplies, his phone rang and he answered without really checking the number.

“Robert Sugden.”

“Hi, Robert, it’s Vanessa. From the dogs.”

“Yes, hi, of course. Is everything alright?”

“Absolutely. I was just wondering if you’d mind coming to pick your dog up later this afternoon? My wife just surprised me with a weekend away so we’ll be leaving tomorrow and I don’t want to put the whole thing on my sister.”

“Oh… sure. Uh I can come over after I’ve picked my son up from school? Around 3?”

“Perfect.” Vanessa replied. “I’ll go call Aaron now, hopefully he can make it too and we can get you both set up with your new friend today.”

Robert forced himself to focus on his shopping, instead of the thought of seeing Aaron again, and quickly grabbed some more supplies, figuring if he had a bed, lead, food, and some toys for their puppy, they’d be alright for a few days.

He drove to Seb’s school and got him out of class early with a made up family emergency.

“Are we going to hospital?” the boy asked as Robert waited for him to fasten his seatbelt.

“No mate, auntie Vic isn’t ill. That was just… a little white lie… so they’d let you leave school early…” He explained, realising now that that wasn’t the best example for his son.

“Ok…”

“We’re going to pick up your birthday present.”

Seb’s eyes lit up.

“Yeah? What is it?”

Robert smiled.

“You’ll love it.”

“The race car?”

“Nope.”

“The dinosaur show?”

“Nope.”

“Lego?”

“Nope.”

“Dad! Just tell me!”

“Check this bag. There’s a hint in there.” Robert handed him a plastic bag from the pet store he’d just been to, filled with dog treats and toys.

The boy rummaged through the bag and Robert smiled to himself, waiting for him to figure it out.

“We’re getting a dog?!”

“That’s right. I know I always said no… but we have plenty of room now. I figured you’d maybe like it.” He teased. “But if you don’t want it, I can just ring the lady and tell her we’ve changed our minds.”

“NO! Dad no! I want a puppy!”

Robert laughed and drove them to Vanessa’s house.

He’d barely parked the car when Seb got out and told him to hurry up.

“It’s the house with the big tree in front of it.” He told the boy who ran to the door.

He grabbed the lead and some treats from the bag and locked the car, before making his way up to the house too.

Seb had rang the doorbell and Vanessa opened the door just as Robert reached it too.

“Oh hi, come on in you. The dogs are just through there.” She said, friendly, stepping aside to let Seb in. “You can just go through too, I’ll be right there.”

Robert wondered for a minute why she wasn’t coming back in too, but when he turned around to ask, he saw Aaron walking down the street, up to the house.

“Hiya, come on in, Robert and his son just got here.”

Seb had dropped to his knees in front of the baby gate and was already trying to play with the puppies through the bars.

“Dad, look, he’s bringing me the ball!”

“That’s great. He likes you already.”

The adults let Seb play with the puppies for a bit while they took care of the finances and other details.

“Are we getting two dogs?” Seb asked, having figured out the two puppies in the pen were the ones up for adoption.

“No mate, just the one with the green collar. Aaron here is adopting the other one.”

Seb looked at Aaron like he’d just noticed him.

“Oh… but then ours will miss his brother.”

“I’m sure he’ll be way too happy with you to miss anyone.” Vanessa told him.

“No, he’s right.” Aaron said, surprising everyone. “So maybe we can meet up every once in a while? So they can play together?”

“Can we, dad?”

“Uh… if Aaron is sure he wants to…”

“Yeah. It’ll be nice for them to see their playmate again, won’t it?” Aaron replied. “And I just got a place in the city, so it’ll be nice for me to have a playmate too.” He grinned and Robert had to remind himself to breathe.

“Do you hear that?” Seb asked the dogs. “You get to come home with us, and you get to go home with Aaron and then you can play together again really, really soon.”

“Give me your phone, so I can put my number in it.” Aaron told Robert who did what he asked.

He watched Aaron put in his number and call his own number so he’d have Robert’s.

After a cup of tea and a chat, they left Vanessa’s house with a promise to send her regular updates on how the pups were doing.

“When can they play together again?” Seb asked his dad, who turned to Aaron.

“Uh… when is good for you?”

“How about… next Wednesday? Or maybe Saturday?”

“Saturday! Can we go Saturday, dad?”

“Yeah… I suppose so. Where do you want to meet? The dog park behind the old bus station?”

Aaron smiled.

“Sounds good.”

They said their goodbyes, realising they were parked on opposite ends of the street, and promised to keep in touch to pick a time and exact place to meet.

Robert got Seb and their new puppy settled in the backseat and got behind the wheel himself, and just as he was about to start the engine, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He took it out and saw a text from Aaron.

How is 2 for you for Saturday?

- 2 is fine. By the fountain?

Sure.

Robert thought that was the end of the conversation but the little dots at the bottom of his screen told him otherwise.

Are you doing anything Saturday night?

- Uh… no… not really.

Would you like to go out with me? We could go for a drink and a mate of mine works at a restaurant in the city centre.

- Like a date?

Robert watched his phone and waited for a reply from Aaron for what seemed like an eternity. Double texting it would have to be.

- Because I’d like that. To go on a date with you.

This time the reply came almost right away.

I’d like that too. Your new puppy isn’t the only cute member of the family.