Actions

Work Header

and the dog is the first to feel it

Work Text:

Thinking back on her reputation in high school, it’s really not a great surprise that Toni turns out to be a lot better with animals than humans. Or well, at least dogs. Her encounters with some cats might’ve actually been worse than some of the human ones.

So much for living the lesbian stereotype.

It is no more of a surprise that the dog she bonds with the most is the one the other volunteers deemed “untamable” and a lost cause.

Even though Marty had to practically drag her to the dog shelter after her therapist suggested it, Toni ends up being very grateful for it.

Toni first sees the dog when one of the volunteers, Martha’s “just a close friend” Marcus, gives Martha and Toni a tour around the shelter. He thinks it is best for them to first meet the puppies, which makes Marty squeal in excitement.

“They’re not up for adoption anymore though. We found families for all three of them. They’re gonna pick them up in a week.” Marcus explains while fishing for the keys in his pocket.

Martha’s already got her head pressed to the metal bars of the enclosure, looking like she’s going to attempt to slip through them and get to the puppies if Marcus doesn’t hurry up.

The puppies react to them in a similar manner, jumping around, wagging their tails and climbing up on Martha’s lap as she sits down right after Marcus opens the door.

“Oh my god, Toni! Look at them, aren’t they the cutest?!” Martha squeals and tries her best to pet all of them simultaneously as they cover her in kisses. “I could just take them all home with me right away. You sure you don’t want to?”

“Again: Not up for adoption.” Marcus mentions and looks like it visibly pains him to see Martha’s disappointed pout, almost enough to just let her take all the puppies no matter the consequences.

Just a close friend - sure.

“I can’t adopt anyway, even if I wanted to.” Toni starts to explain. “I’m at the shop all day every day, and the only animals they allow there are men. So I don’t really have time for a pet.”

“Very responsible.” Marcus says and laughs a little bit.

At least he seems nice enough.

“So I’m guessing your visits are mostly gonna be on the weekends?” He says to Toni while keeping his eyes on Martha with the dogs.

“If they even become regular.” Toni mumbles, seriously doubting that looking at puppies every weekend for an hour is going to help with her anger issues.

They’re cute, sure, but they also definitely look like they’ll pee on her.

They end up spending half an hour with the puppies due to Martha doting on each one of them. When they finally leave the enclosure, they are both covered in fur head to toe.

Thank fuck she’s not allergic.

“Wanna see the other dogs that have been here for longer?” Marcus asks. He hasn’t even fully finished his question before Martha nods at him with the same excitement she’s had since they arrived.

They pass a couple of dogs and Toni feels bad for all of them because unlike the puppies, none of them have very high chances of being adopted anytime soon. She doesn’t want to know why they ended up at the shelter in the first place; the anger and resentment towards stupid humans rising in her regardless. Which is the exact opposite of the effect this visit was meant to have.

Some dogs run up to the bars, wagging their tails only for them to pass them, others hide in the back of their enclosures, clearly terrified of any human getting too close to them. Their reactions all break Toni’s heart a little bit but none of them particularly stand out to her until they pass an enclosure further in the back of the shelter.

Toni doesn’t know much about dogs besides whether they’re small, big or medium sized, but even to her it’s clear that the dog inside must be a mix of at least six different kinds of breeds. Its fur is short and grey, the ears are pointed and Toni is pretty sure it might be taller than her if it were to stand up on its back feet. Unlike the other dogs they passed, this one doesn’t greet them with excitement or retreat to the corner to hide. It just sits very calmly in the middle of its enclosure and stares at them. It might be the static position or the almost piercing look but something draws Toni to this dog.

“Seems pretty calm.” Toni mentions and nods her head towards the dog.

“Looks are deceiving.” Marcus scoffs out. “That’s Tammy - one of the more rebellious ones.”

“How so?”

“Her owners gave her away ‘cause she bit their kid” Marcus explains with a sigh. “She’s lucky she hasn’t been put down yet. Doesn’t let anyone close to her and we can only walk her with a muzzle.”

“Oh, that’s so sad!” Martha says with a pout.

Tammy still hasn’t stopped staring at her and Toni can’t look away. She vaguely remembers reading something about never staring into a dog’s eyes for too long, but Tammy isn’t reacting and there are bars separating them, so Toni isn’t scared.

“Let me introduce you to Bob.” Marcus chimes in. “He’s the calmest dog around, super friendly towards humans but he’s old so no one wants to adopt him. He’s probably the best choice for walks.”

Toni stares at Tammy for a second longer before nodding and following Marcus and Martha.

 

A week later, Toni ends up going to the shelter again, alone this time since Martha couldn’t make it.

She thought about Tammy sometimes, mainly wondering why she sat so calmly if she’s supposed to be dangerous. By the time she gets out of the bus and walks into the shelter, it’s raining cats and dogs and Toni silently curses herself for not checking the weather report before leaving.

Marcus greets when she walks in but tells her he’s got his hands full with preparing another adoption. Toni waves him off; she doesn’t need another tour.

She walks around aimlessly for a little bit, but after being barked at for ten minutes, she stops in front of the quietest enclosure.

Tammy sits in the same place Toni’s found her last time. Again, they start their  staring contest . Can dogs recognize people?

After a few minutes, Toni gets tired of standing in the same spot and moves closer towards the bars, taking hold of one of them to get a better look at Tammy. But as soon as she touches the metal, Tammy starts to growl. Toni removes her hand instantly and frowns at her. She wasn’t scared of Tammy but she had to admit that it startled her. With Toni a few steps away, Tammy calms down. Tentatively, she reaches out again, slower this time, and the growling picks up again.

“Someone’s territorial, huh?” Toni mumbles to herself but doesn’t remove her hand.

Tammy growls for a while longer, louder after she realizes that Toni makes no indication to move her hand. Tammy stands up on the bars, and only then does Toni remove her hand.

The dog waits a moment, as if making sure that Toni doesn’t touch her enclosure again, before sitting down with a small huff.

Toni doesn’t have anything better to do until the next bus comes in about an hour, so she sits down directly in front of the bars. Tammy barely acknowledges her, just gives her a small tilt of her head. But no growling—progress.

Toni sits there in a silent staring contest with a dog until it’s time for her to catch the bus. It felt ridiculous the entire time but it was better than being peed on by puppies.  As she leaves, Marcus asks what she was up to and Toni tells him that she hung out with Tammy. He looks at her as if she grew another head, but she doesn’t stick around for him to respond.

 

The next time she visits the shelter, Martha joins her again. While she and Marcus take care of Bob, Toni again sits down in front of Tammy’s enclosure, this time with the newest issue of Sport’s Illustrated. She feels Tammy’s eyes on her the whole time but refuses to take part in the staring contest.

It sort of becomes a routine. Not the kind that her therapist had in mind but during their next session, when Toni says that she kind of enjoys not being around humans but still not feeling alone, her therapist thinks it might even be better than just going on walks.

“Do you think bonding with Tammy might help you even more?”

Toni shrugs, not really knowing the answer to that.

“You said the dog isn’t particularly friendly towards humans?”

Toni nods.

“Why do you think that is?”

“What do I know?” Toni answers dryly. “I don’t think anyone understands her.”

Toni doesn’t know how to interpret the small smile that forms on her therapist’s lips until the next time she bends down to take a seat in front of Tammy’s enclosure and for the first time since the growl, Toni gets another reaction out of the dog.

She vaguely notices Tammy’s ears twitching before she stands up, moves one step closer to Toni and sits down again.

Toni is so surprised, she falls back into staring at Tammy again, completely forgetting about the newspaper she’s brought to read this time. That is until Tammy lets out another huff as if to tell her to stop making such a big deal out of it.

Toni thinks she might be going a little crazy, trying to figure out what is going on inside a dog’s brain but then again, she might be the only one at least attempting it in this case, so maybe it’s not all bad.

She tries to stop herself from thinking about the lack of people in her life that have made an effort to try and understand her and forces herself to focus on the newspaper.

A single tear falls onto it and it startles her a bit, even though she felt it coming ever since Tammy moved closer to her. She thinks back to what her therapist asked her—if bonding with Tammy might help her.

The answer is yes.

 

Toni ends up adding another day a week to visit the shelter. Every Wednesday and Saturday she takes her seat in front of Tammy and reads in silence. Martha joins her most Saturdays to spend time with Marcus. She’s not making a secret out of it anymore after Toni pointed out how obviously into each other they are. Toni doesn’t think she’s ever seen Martha blush that hard before.

It’s when Martha calls what Tammy and Toni have “cute” and Toni doesn’t get as mad at the description as she usually would, that she realizes she actually cares a lot for the dog.

With every visit, Tammy inches a little bit closer towards Toni and after two months, she sits down directly in front of the bars as soon as Toni takes her seat. Again, it takes a huff from Tammy for Toni to stop gaping at her and look down at her newspaper.

For the first minutes of looking at it, Toni doesn’t read a single word but thinks about how this is the first time the thought of petting Tammy has ever even crossed her mind.

Now that the idea has planted itself into her head, she can’t stop thinking about it. She looks up from the paper and is met with Tammy’s tilted head, her stare now feeling less pointed and more curious, as if she’s daring her to reach out her hand. And again, but less often lately, Toni thinks she’s being ridiculous trying to interpret the looks of a dog.

Nevertheless, Toni slowly lifts one of her hands and moves it towards the metal bars. Tammy is definitely in biting range now and while Toni isn’t necessarily scared of her, she’s also not dumb enough to stick her hand right into the cage. Instead, she uses her pointer finger and places it against the bar, testing the waters. What used to be a full-on growl a couple of weeks ago has turned into something that is more like a grunt of disapproval. Tammy huffs again when Toni pulls her hand back.

She tries her luck twice more over the course of the next twenty minutes. Always with a bit of reading in between and each time drawing out the contact a bit more.

She’s beginning to feel a bit stupid, with her pointer finger again pressed to the bar. It probably looks strange for bystanders, and she really hopes Marthy and Marcus don’t come around to witness this, especially because they know that she doesn’t know anything about dogs at all. Toni has been acting purely on instinct from the very beginning of this but maybe that’s why it’s working.

Just as she’s about to pull her hand away again, Tammy’s head moves the slightest bit forward. Her nostrils flutter a little as she sniffs. Toni draws her finger back but instead of pulling her hand away, she holds it out towards Tammy with the back of her hand pointing towards her.

Tammy moves and sniffs at Toni’s hand again. She’s so close now, Toni can feel her breath on her skin. Her hand is itching to reach out and see if Tammy would let her touch her but the same instinct that made Toni sit down in front of the cage in the first place, is telling her that they’ re not there yet.

So as soon as Tammy’s done registering Toni’s smell, she focuses on her newspaper again and reads in quiet, Tammy’s eyes on her the entire time, until she has to leave to catch the bus.

 

It’s worked into their routine. For the next two weeks, every time Toni visits Tammy, Toni reaches her hand out for Tammy to smell right after sitting down in front of her and before she has to leave again. Even though she hasn’t actually touched her, Toni loves how close it makes her feel to the dog; knowing that she’s the only one that gets her to leave her spot in the middle of the cage. It comforts her in ways she hasn’t felt for a while, easily turning Wednesdays and Saturdays into her favorite days of the week.

After a truly shit day at work, she can’t wait to get away from the rest of the world for a little while, ready for the Tammy’s presence to calm her down.

She sits down with a quiet “Hey, Tammy, what’s up.”, something she has started doing ever since the dog started moving closer to her. Like the times before, Tammy gets up to move closer to Toni but instead of staying seated, she lets her front paws slide forward until they poke out under the cage and her head is on the ground, snout nearly pressing through the bars.

It is quite possibly the cutest thing Toni has ever seen.

It gets worse when Tammy’s signature huff turns into a little bit of a whine.

Toni is pretty sure she has the right idea what is going on, but it also feels a little too good to be true. Carefully, she reaches her hand forward. Tammy sniffs at her hand like usual before nudging the back of Toni’s hand with her snout.

Toni doesn’t know how to describe the emotions running through her as she feels the wet spot Tammy’s nose has left on the back of her hand, as her eyes start to water.

Tammy nudges her hand again before Toni tentatively stretches out her fingers and, for the first time, breaks through the barrier placed by the metal bars.

Tammy’s tail starts wagging as soon as Toni scratches her head. It only gets stronger when Toni finds a spot right next to her ear.

Toni doesn’t notice she’s crying until a tear hits her other hand in her lap.

She spends the rest of her visit scratching Tammy’s head.

She still brings the newspaper the next time around but abandons it as soon as it becomes clear that the petting was not just a one-time thing. After that, she doesn’t bother taking it with her.

“It seems like the two of you share a very special connection.” Her therapist says after Toni tells her about the progress she’s had with Tammy.

Happiness swells in her, overwhelming her a bit, so she just nods.

For her next visit, she doesn’t go straight to Tammy.

“I wanna take her for a walk,” Toni declares to Marcus as soon as she sees him.

He knows Toni ’s been spending all of her time at the shelter with Tammy and Toni thinks he saw how close she’s moved towards Toni at her own accord without any trace of aggression. Still, he hesitates.

“I don’t know, Toni,” He answers carefully. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“She’s not gonna hurt me.” Toni says with conviction. “She’s letting me touch her. Has been for more than a week now.”

Apparently, Marcus hasn’t known that yet because his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Really?”

Toni nods.

“Can you show me?” He asks and Toni nods again, happy to see him grab a leash and collar on the way, though not so happy about the muzzle.

Tammy lays down and presses against the bars as soon as Toni’s close enough for her to see and Toni doesn’t hesitate to sit down and reach her hand forward. She lets Tammy smell it first before she starts scratching her head.

“Holy shit,” Marcus exclaims. “How’d you do that?”

“I don’t know.” Because Toni doesn’t actually know what exactly made Tammy trust her enough for this. “I just sat with her and one day she started coming to me.”

“Huh… Yeah, I guess you can try to walk her. But I’d be more comfortable accompanying you for the first time at least. She’s a very strong dog. Better to have two people around in case she tries to run or gets startled or something.”

Something tells Toni that nothing like that would happen, that Tammy and she would probably do just fine on their own, but she can respect Marcus’ concern, so she agrees.

Marcus goes to unlock the cage, but Toni puts her hand out to stop him.

“Actually, can I just sit with her inside the cage for a moment?” She asks, feeling a little shy for some reason.

“Yeah, sure.” He lets her into the enclosure and slides the door shut behind her but keeps it unlocked.

Just like all her visits before, Toni sits down in front of Tammy, who’s been curiously watching Marcus unlocking the cage. Toni’s a bit nervous when Tammy takes a couple steps towards her, not because she’s scared but because this is the first time that nothing is separating them and she doesn’t have to angle her hand through bars to pet her.

For a moment she wonders if Tammy’s even going to let her get that close to her now that they’re fully sharing her space, but that moment doesn’t last long when Tammy lays down in front of her, placing her head in Toni’s lap.

If it weren’t for Marcus still watching them, Toni would’ve cried again.

“Hey there,” Toni says quietly, after running her hands through Tammy’s short fur for a moment. “Wanna go for a walk?”

Toni has never seen Tammy move as quickly before, her head perking up as soon as she heard the word “walk”.

“Guess that’s a yes,” Marcus chimes in with a chuckle and hands her the collar and leash. “You’re probably the only one allowed to put that on her without trouble.”

So Toni does and Tammy happily lets her. Her tail hasn’t stopped wagging for as long as Toni has been in the cage with her. She rubs the muzzle against the ground right after Toni’s put it on but doesn’t protest it any further.

As soon as they leave the enclosure, Tammy stays glued to Toni’s legs without her having to pull at the leash or say something even once. She ignores every other dog and human, her focus very clearly just on Toni. Her tail is still wagging like crazy and hits Toni’s legs occasionally. Toni doesn’t know which of them is happier.

When they go outside and move away from the shelter, heading into the nearby forest, Tammy starts to move away from Toni. She’s all too happy to explore the path they’re taking and stops every couple of feet to smell at literally anything.

“I don’t even know why I came with you,” Marcus mentions fifteen minutes into the walk. “You’re a pro at this.”

Toni doesn’t remember the last time she has felt pride swell in her chest like that.

“Thanks.”

 

Toni goes on walks with Tammy during all her visits now and Marcus only joins them when Martha does too. They still haven’t made things official—which is ridiculous considering that Martha told her they’ve basically confessed their feelings for each other weeks ago. But Toni’s more interested in watching Tammy explore nature than sticking her nose in Martha’s business.

On the days Toni walks Tammy alone, she makes sure to run at least half of the distance. Her therapist’s original plan included her exerting herself physically in a way that would relieve built up frustration but also be beneficial to something beyond Toni.

Toni’s pretty sure there’s nothing left that Tammy could do to help her even more but for the sake of it, she still tries the whole running thing once Marcus let’s her know that she’s good to go without the muzzle. The plan to slowly introduce Tammy to running goes out of the window as soon as Toni starts speeding up her steps, falling into a comfortable jog and Tammy immediately jumps at the opportunity to move her legs. Before she knows it, Toni picks up her pace to something closer to a sprint.

Toni wonders how long it has been since Tammy’s been able to run like that.

And because Toni knows the need to feel free and how close running can get you to that, she pushes herself to run as fast and for as long as she can just so Tammy can feel like that for a second more.

As soon as Tammy feels resistance on the leash when Toni can’t keep up anymore, she slows down again, letting Toni catch her breath.

“You’re gonna get me in the best shape of my life,” Toni pants out.

It’s the first time she hears Tammy let out a happy bark.

 

“So you’re telling me you managed to resolve your anger issues by bonding with a dog that also has anger issues?” Fatin asks Toni, her signature smirk all over her face, over their third round of drinks.

“Tammy doesn’t have anger issues,” Toni grumbles out. “She’s just misunderstood.”

“Yeah, you were right Martha,” Leah starts. “Tammy does sound like the dog version of Toni.”

“Right?!” Martha yells out in excitement the same time Toni says “What?!”, throwing Martha an accusing look.

“What? It’s true.” Martha defends herself sheepishly. “And it’s not like it’s a bad thing. The two of you are perfect for each other!”

Toni smiles.

“It’s too bad you can’t adopt her,” Martha whines and drunkenly throws an arm around Toni.

Toni’s smile falls and she swallows.

“Why not?” Fatin asks.

“Don’t really have the time.” Toni grumbles out. “Plus, my landlord doesn’t allow pets and Tammy isn’t exactly low-key. There’s no way I’d be able to sneak her past Miss Klein’s all-seeing presence.”

“Ugh, that bitch,” Fatin exclaims.

“Yeah, she’s a horrible neighbor,” Leah agrees.

“Well, at least you can always visit Tammy at the shelter.” Martha, as always, tries to stay positive.

“What if someone wants to adopt her?” Leah asks and Toni stiffens a bit.

The thought had crossed her mind more often than she’d like to admit.

“Like that’s ever gonna happen,” Marty says. “Toni’s the only one even allowed to get close to her, let alone touch her. There’s no way that dog is ever gonna trust anyone more than Toni.”

 

All the progress she has made with Tammy so far has been purely instinctive, so Toni feels weird googling stuff about raising dogs. Or more specifically, how to teach them tricks.

She’s fairly certain, even without any great knowledge about dogs, that Tammy is pretty smart, so the next time she makes her way to the shelter, she’s equipped with three different kinds of dog treats and the ambition to teach Tammy how to sit on command.

Tammy’s incredibly stubborn about it in the beginning, clearly not too fond of the idea of following someone’s command, but so is Toni. Leah’s comment on Tammy being the dog version of her only seems more accurate now.

It nearly takes the full visit and a lot of huffing and pointed stares from both parties, but by the time Toni has to leave, Tammy both listens to Toni’s verbal command and reacts to the gestured one.

After two more meetings and one and half more learned tricks, Toni starts looking into new apartments. Pet friendly ones, preferably with a garden or at least some sort of nature close by. When she tells Martha about the idea, she squeals in excitement, only mentioning the fact that Toni still works long hours and Tammy would have to be alone for most of the day as a side note. Toni chooses not to focus on that too much, very well aware of the fact herself.

 

A month after she has started looking for a new place and two days before she is meant to check out a potential one, her Tammy induced happiness evaporates all within one conversation.

“Hey Toni!” Marcus catches her as she enters the shelter. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Yeah, sure.”

It’s another change that spending time with Tammy has brought along, one that Toni only noticed as soon as Martha pointed it out to her, and that then surprised her herself. She’s a lot less grumpy towards other humans—to put it in Marty’s words.

“It’s about Tammy.” He starts and Toni’s stomach sinks.

“Is she okay?”

“Yes, of course. She’s doing great!” Marcus adds hastily. “In fact, all the progress you have made with her seems to have rubbed off to other people as well. Or at least in this case.”

“What do you mean?” Toni asks, both confused but also relieved because for a second she was worried about her.

“The woman who adopted Bob two weeks ago came in with a friend who seems to have bonded a bit with Tammy. She’s considering adopting her.”

The pit in Toni’s stomach forms again.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, she wanted to hang out with Tammy a bit more but because she’s still rather wary with everyone but you, I was wondering if you could let her tag along for your walks?”

Marcus seems hopeful and happy about the prospect of Tammy potentially finding her forever home, all too unaware of the misery the idea causes in Toni.

“Sure,” She croaks out.

“Great!” He claps his hands in excitement. “She’s with Tammy already. Long blond hair and a pink jacket, you can’t possibly miss her.”

And before Toni knows it, Marcus has left her standing alone in the middle of the shelter’s entrance hall, with an inner turmoil that wasn’t even this big during her last breakup.

With slow steps, Toni moves towards Tammy’s cage and a hundred different thoughts run through her head.

The first one being that she hates whoever this person is that plans on taking Tammy away from her. The most prominent being that she is going to lose Tammy. The one constant that has managed to make her feel secure for the past six months. The first connection where Toni’s felt like she could build something, create something beautiful instead of destroying everything she touches.

And it hurts. A lot.

Because in two days she’s supposed to check out an apartment where she could move in with Tammy, where Toni could give Tammy her forever home.

It hurts a lot more when her thoughts become less cloudy and recover from the initial shock of hearing the news.

Because the apartment wasn’t the only problem, it wasn’t even the biggest. Her job was still too time consuming, the hours still too unpredictable, for her to take on the responsibility of properly taking care of a dog.

And after being handed over to a shelter at only six months old and living there for more than a year, misunderstood and really fucking lonely, Tammy doesn’t deserve anything but the best home to live in.

She wipes away the tears that she couldn’t stop from rolling down her eyes before she rounds the last corner on her way to Tammy. Her whole body tenses up when she sees the woman Marcus had mentioned kneeling in front of Tammy, who happily lets her scratch behind her ears.

It’s insanely petty, Toni knows that, but she’d at least still hoped that Marcus was wrong about them bonding. She takes a deep breath, tries to ignore the pesky voice inside her head that tells her that there’s nothing special about her after all, and walks towards the woman.

Tammy moves away from the blonde and toward the end of the cage that’s closer to Toni as soon as she sees her coming. Toni’s heart warms a bit as she bends down to greet her but it still feels broken.

“Hey there,” The woman greets Toni with a smile. “You must be Toni!”

“That’s me,” Toni answers, her own voice miles away from the enthusiasm she’s met with.

“I’m Shelby.” The woman stretches out her hand towards Toni. “Shelby Goodkind.”

“Nice to meet you,” Toni says even though it’s a lie and shakes Shelby’s hand.

“Nice to meet you, too!”

Shelby seems so genuinely excited that Toni feels a bit bad for disliking her.

“So, I’ve heard you’re the only one that gets along with her.” Shelby grins at Toni.

“Yeah, kinda,” Toni answers halfheartedly. “Well, until now.” She vaguely points at Shelby.

“Oh, don’t be fooled. We had a rough start,” Shelby eagerly starts to report. “But lots of treats and consistency have seemed to work.”

Toni’s a bit confused by that. “Wait, how long have you been coming here?” Toni’s pretty sure she would’ve remembered Shelby if she’d seen her around before. And she’s definitely never seen anyone even getting close to Tammy, most people were immediately scared off by her appearance and backstory.

“For about a month now? My best friend Becca adopted a dog from here ‘bout two weeks ago. But for some reason I just couldn’t get this one out of my head, so I came back.”

“Yeah, she seems to have that effect on people.” Toni mumbles, trying not to think about the fact that what took her six months, Shelby managed to do within one.

“So are you a dog trainer or something?” Shelby asks her curiously. “That’s the reason she only listens to you?”

“No, I’ve never actually had a dog before,” Toni says, somewhat embarrassed about the admission.

“Oh, then you must be a natural!” There is no trace of dishonesty in Shelby’s voice, nothing that would make Toni think that she doesn’t fully mean it.

And as much as it flatters Toni that someone else acknowledges the bond she has with Tammy, she really wishes Shelby would stop complimenting her so much. Because as far as Toni knows, there doesn’t seem to be a lot stopping her from adopting Tammy.

Toni would rather have Shelby keep the compliments to herself, insult her even, and let Tammy stay here with her.

“I grew up around dogs. My parents have a farm in Texas, so there were always at least two dogs around.”

And that’s another thing. Not only is Shelby the nicest person to ever interact with Toni, at least at the first glance, but she also seems to be way more experienced with dogs than Toni ever will be.

Toni can’t think of one reason why Shelby shouldn’t adopt Tammy, other than the obvious selfish one.

It makes her feel even worse.

Tammy’s getting visibly antsy now, probably confused and a bit annoyed by the fact Toni’s still talking to Shelby instead of finally letting her out of the cage and going on their regular walk. For the first time, Toni isn’t particularly excited about going, even dreading it a little bit because she told Marcus she would let Shelby tag along and the other woman is clearly just as excited about it as Tammy is.

It could be her saving grace. Toni considers the possibility of Shelby not being able to handle Tammy once they are outside. It’s a slim chance, kind of impossible even, considering that Shelby got to the point of touching Tammy way faster than Toni did, but she gets her hopes up a little bit anyway.

“You wanna go for a walk?” Toni wills her voice not to sound as pained as she feels.

Shelby nods in excitement and Tammy hops with her front feet  as Toni unlocks the gate.

It’s a small relief that Tammy still sticks to Toni’s legs when they start walking and she only glances at Shelby once every few minutes, her eyes on Toni for most of the time.

They walk in silence for the first ten  minutes or so. Toni has no desire to start a conversation with Shelby, both because she’s not good at stuff like that anyway and because she still doesn’t want to like her.

She’s not surprised when Shelby breaks the silence .

“She really ain’t what people make her out to be, huh?” She says, nodding her head to Tammy, who’s happily investigating a wild daisy at the edge of the pathway. “Marcus told me ’bout the problems she’s had with people, but I don’t know, right now it seems like she’s not to blame for them at all.”

“Yeah, she’s… she’s great.”

“How long have you known her?”

“Six months now.”

“Can I ask?” Shelby turns to Toni. “Why don’t you adopt her?”

Toni takes a deep breath. It’s not like the question’s unexpected, but she still doesn’t really feel prepared to answer it.

“Long work hours and an unfit apartment.” She brings out. There’s no reason why she should let Shelby in on any of the details.

“Oh, that’s too bad!”

Toni hates how Shelby’s compassion feels genuine.

They don’t talk much more for the rest of the walk, sticking to meaningless small talk, mainly carried by Shelby. Toni holds Tammy’s leash the entire time and Shelby doesn’t ask if she can take over at all, which Toni’s grateful for. It makes her feel at least a bit more connected to Tammy than Shelby.

“You’re around on Wednesdays and Saturdays, right?” Shelby asks her as soon as they’re back at the shelter. “Marcus told me, ” She adds.

Toni nods, taking the collar off Tammy.

“Can I join you for another walk on Saturday then?”

Toni looks at her confused.

“I just wanna make sure she’s warmed up to me before I try walking her on my own, ” Shelby explains and fiddles with her hands.

And because Toni kind of expected her to adopt Tammy right after the walk because it went way better than she had selfishly hoped, she agrees, happy to spend one more afternoon with Tammy, even though Shelby’s going to be there, too.

“Great! Thank you so much, Toni. See you on Saturday!”

Shelby gives her a wave as she leaves Toni in front of Tammy’s enclosure, and Toni’s really glad that she didn’t expect her to follow her to the exit. Even though her usual visiting time with Tammy is coming to an end and her bus is leaving any minute now, Toni lets herself into the cage again, sitting down next to a confused but happy Tammy. It doesn’t take more than a couple of seconds for Tammy to put her head into Toni’s lap, her tail happily waggling. Toni buries her face into Tammy’s fur and stops trying to hold back the tears that come when she wonders how many more times she’ll get to see her and when she’ll have to say goodbye.

 

For the next two weeks, Shelby joins them on their walks. While Shelby tries to get some conversations going between the two of them, Toni mostly gives one-worded answers. So during their third walk together, Shelby stops asking Toni about her life and just tells her a bit about her own every now and then. It’s not a lot, but Toni finds out that Shelby works as a teacher and for whatever reason, doesn’t have the best relationship with her family. “I talk to my siblings nearly every day but only see my parents for birthdays and holidays.”

Toni gets the feeling that Shelby wants her to ask why but Toni’s stubborn and has no interest in getting to know the person that’s going to take away Tammy .

The prospect of losing her has already made her significantly grumpier. So much so that Martha has commented on it at least three times and her therapist asked  about any changes in her routine. She didn’t tell either of them about the situation with Tammy. Martha, because she doesn’t know if she can handle the waves of pity associated with telling her and her therapist because Toni fears she’s going to suggest finding a different dog and Toni doesn’t think that there will be any like Tammy. At least not for her.

Plus, telling someone else about Tammy being adopted by someone that is not her would make it feel so much more real and so far, Shelby hasn’t actually said the words. There’s a part of Toni that’s still hopeful Shelby will not go through with it; that she will miraculously decide she isn’t fit for a dog, or at least not the right fit for this dog, after all. Toni knows that chances are close to zero, but the completely irrational hope made her sign the lease for the new, dog friendly apartment anyway.

She tells herself it’s not a stupid decision. Even if she can’t adopt Tammy, her job still keeps her way too busy and it’s nice to live a bit more outside of the city. Plus, she might be able to put up a basketball hoop in the backyard.

It only turns out to be a really stupid decision when Martha tells Marcus about it, who in return tells her about the fact that someone else is about to adopt Tammy, which ends up with Martha greeting Toni with her strongest “I-cannot-believe-you-are-doing-this” and “I-can’t-believe-you-didn’t-tell-me” combinational stare she’s witnessed to this day with the moving crew behind her.

“Toni—“ Martha starts but it’s obvious what it’s about so Toni waves her off.

“I know, I know. I’m insane for doing this,” She starts unenthusiastically. “But hey, at least I’ll have a dog friendly place should I ever build up another unconventional bond with a dog again.” Toni knows she sounds  gloomy and Martha immediately throws her arms around her with an empathetic “oh, Toni.”

 

Another week of walking Tammy together with Shelby passes and Toni’s kind of gotten used to her being around now. She doesn’t like it, but it’s getting increasingly more difficult to completely shut the other woman out. If the circumstances were different, if Shelby wasn’t planning on adopting and instead was just visiting Tammy at the shelter to walk with her just like Toni does, she might be ready to admit she doesn’t completely hate Shelby’s presence. Shelby still talks a lot during their walks, mostly about work and what kind of trouble the kids she teaches have gotten into lately and Toni still doesn’t say much back other than the occasional acknowledgement that she’s listening. But she has to admit, Shelby has a pretty great way of retelling stories, and her voice is kind of nice, which makes sense when Toni finds out that she used to sing. Even her Texan accent isn’t nearly as annoying as it probably should be.

As Toni watches Shelby bond more with Tammy, practicing the tricks they’ve now both started to teach her and praising her treats, she starts to understand why it didn’t take Tammy a long time to warm up to her. Shelby’s great at this; knows exactly what to do and say to get Tammy to listen to her. Surprisingly, Toni’s jealousy dims down with every interaction she witnesses. Tammy’s clearly thrilled to have Shelby around and it’s difficult to hold a grudge against someone while they both play around like idiots just to entertain a dog.

Where Toni’s stubborn and impatient, Shelby’s calm and patient when it comes to teaching Tammy tricks. But when it comes to letting Tammy exert herself outside, Toni’s undoubtedly the fitter one of the two of them; running around and never tiring of throwing the ball Shelby’s brought for their last walk for Tammy to chase.

Shelby stops feeling like her competition and more like a teammate when it comes to taking care of Tammy.

All the nice thoughts she has about Shelby come to an abrupt halt as soon as they let Tammy back into her cage after their usual Wednesday afternoon walk. Instead of darting off with a friendly goodbye to leave Toni alone with Tammy for another moment— something that Shelby’s started doing recently and Toni’s really grateful for— she turns to Toni and fidgets with her hands.

“You’re gonna be here on Saturday, right? Same time as usual?” Shelby asks carefully and Toni’s a little confused by the question.

They’ve figured out their walking rhythm after a week and it’s never really been a point of discussion.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t know. Just wanted to make sure,” Shelby answers . She takes a deep breath and the look on her face reminds Toni of the one her social worker used to have right before telling her she’d have to switch foster families again. “I’m gonna take her home with me after our walk.”

It feels like someone has dumped a bucket of ice-cold water over her .

All she gets out is a breathy “oh.”

Shelby presses her lips together, a look of pity in her eyes and Toni wonders if Shelby feels guilty for adopting Tammy— if Shelby acknowledging what this means for Toni, that this might be really difficult for her, would make her like Shelby more or less.

But her brain’s too clouded with Tammy leaving her, that the only space freed up for a thought about Shelby is that she’s the one who’s making her.

“Yeah, so, see you Saturday?” She asks carefully, waiting for Toni to nod weakly before turning around to leave her alone with Tammy for the last time.

Toni leaves the shelter two hours later than usual. If anyone notices her red, puffy eyes or heard her crying into Tammy’s fur, they know better than to mention it.

 

Toni doesn’t go to the shelter on Saturday. She hates herself a bit for wasting the last chance to see Tammy again, but the thought of saying goodbye with Marcus and Shelby watching and probably breaking down in front of them, feels too hard to stomach.

Instead, she wastes her day staring at the TV screen in her new apartment with some Netflix show on; she can’t even name the main character.

The closer it gets to the time she usually leaves for the shelter, the harder it gets to hold back the tears. So at one point, she stops trying altogether and lets everything out.

It’s pathetic and she feels stupid for crying more over a dog than anything else in her life. But it also feels like with each visit she’s left a part of herself with Tammy— a part that grew pretty big over the last seven months and that now she has no way of getting back.

Thirty minutes after her usual arrival, she gets a call from Martha. She hesitates for a moment, just stares at her phone and considers not picking up. But Martha knows her visiting times and Marcus probably told her about the adoption taking place today and Shelby might’ve told Marcus that Toni wanted to come today— so her best guess is that Martha wants to know where she is and will simply call again if Toni ignores her.

Toni picks up but doesn’t say anything in fear of her voice giving away what kind of state she’s in right now.

“Toni, where are you? Marcus just called me. Shelby’s waiting for you,” Martha asks, worry dripping from her voice .

Toni takes a deep breath. “I can’t do it, Marty.” Her voice breaks.

“Toni— “

“Please, ” Toni interrupts her. “Just tell him I can’t make it today.”

Martha stays quiet for a while and Toni feels even more pathetic when sniffing her nose breaks through the silence.

“Okay, I’ll let him know, ” Martha answers finally and Toni feels relieved that she isn’t telling her to go. “And I’ll come by your place with ice cream tonight. That’s non-negotiable.”

Toni scoffs out a laugh. “Thanks.”

Fresh tears flow down her face after Martha hangs up, but the fact Martha treats this just like her break up with Regan makes her feel a bit better and less ridiculous about taking this just as badly if not worse.

 

Toni sulks for a week before Martha finally pushes her out of the house, telling her some sunlight is going to be good for her. Toni complies reluctantly and starts to feel a little better after walking around her new neighborhood and the surrounding forest with Martha.

Walking around by herself without an excited Tammy to watch, however, is dreadfully boring so Toni switches to running. She pushes herself to a degree that is probably really close to being unhealthy and her legs are sore the next day, but overall, it makes her feel better, so she makes a habit out of it. It quickly becomes clear that she picked an apartment in a dog-friendly neighborhood because she sees at least two every time she goes outside. None of them are Tammy though, so Toni tries to ignore  them, even the ones who run up to her for pets.

After a month, she considers going to the shelter again. Her therapist strongly encouraged her to and Martha and Marcus are finally officially dating, so Martha is there most of the time anyways.

She’s still convinced her connection with Tammy was a one-time thing, something special just between the two of them, so hanging out with any other dog will probably feel very different. The thought of not seeing Tammy at her usual spot excitedly waiting for her, still feels heavy and like something Toni wants to avoid. Plus, she now has the additional fear that maybe she’ll find something similar again only for that dog to be taken away from her too.

Toni mulls it over while running, every negative thought pushing her closer to her limit. She’s blissfully unaware of her surroundings and doesn’t notice the barking and shouts behind her until something very heavy and kind of pokey pushes into her back and Toni falls face forward onto the ground. Luckily, her fall is cushioned by some moss on the forest ground.

“What the fuck?!” She groans, slowly rolling onto her back, trying to brush off the dirt on her face.

There’s no way she can’t notice the barking now, coming from next to her and the next thing she knows, something very rough and wet is licking all over her face.

“Oh lord, Tammy! Get back here!” She hears a familiar voice yell, but the dog on top of her isn’t fazed by the command in the slightest, still licking all over Toni’s face only to be interrupted by some happy barks.

As soon as Toni registers who is on top of her, all prior irritation is thrown out of the window, and she starts to pet Tammy. She has to fight Tammy a bit to sit up and properly throw her arms around her.

“Fuck, I’ve missed you,” She mumbles into the familiar fur and gets some more barking and tail wagging as a response.

“Lord, I’m so sorry! You okay?” Shelby says  breathlessly, catching up with Tammy.

Toni looks up to her, unable to fight the gigantic smile off her face that only grows  larger as she looks up at Shelby, who’s staring at her with wide eyes. Her heart flutters and maybe it’s not just the dog she has missed. “All good.”

“What— Toni!“ Shelby only recognizes her when their eyes meet. “What are you doing here?” Her face is flushed, probably from having to run after Tammy.

“Well, I was running,” Toni answers, still grinning from ear to ear with Tammy on her lap.

“Oh, yes, of course. That was kind of—“ She points to Toni’s running clothes, her eyebrows rising. “Oh, are you hurt? That was quite the fall.”

“I’m fine,” Toni gets out between laughs. She’s mostly distracted with scratching Tammy’s head who in return, licks all over Toni’s face.

Shelby smiles back, and looks relieved as soon as she realizes that Toni’s fine and the large dog on top of her is the only reason she’s still sitting on the ground.

“Looks like she’s really missed you,” Shelby comments, but where Toni would’ve expected jealousy, there’s only joy in her voice.

“The feeling’s mutual.”

Toni stays on the ground until she realizes she’s sitting in the middle of the path and, with Shelby standing in front of her, effectively blocking it. An elderly couple is forced to walk around them and nearly trips over some roots. They don’t say anything, just stare at the two women and the dog with frowning faces.

“Okay Tammy, I need to get up,” Toni says as she tries to push her off.

Shelby reacts quickly, grabbing the leash that must’ve slipped out of her hand previously, and starts to pull Tammy back before offering her free hand to Toni.

Toni would’ve been fine getting up on her own, but Shelby smiles at her brightly and even though it’s ridiculous, especially after face-planting on forest ground, this is the happiest Toni’s been in weeks, so she takes the hand and lets herself be pulled up. “Thanks.”

Shelby keeps smiling at her in return while Tammy runs around between their legs as they stand right in front of each other. Toni would love nothing more than to bend down again and keep petting the dog but there’s a group of people trying to get past them that forces Shelby and her to awkwardly shuffle towards the side to make space. The movement kind of helps them to become aware of their situation and Toni starts to get embarrassed about her obvious elation to see Tammy again. Especially since she sort of stood up Shelby a month ago.

Toni never said a lot during their walks together so she shouldn’t feel as weird as she does about standing wordlessly in front of Shelby, just staring at her with her surely dumb grin still on her face because she didn’t think she was ever going to see her again. Tammy, that is. Obviously.

After a couple more very long seconds of silence and Tammy weaseling around their legs, Toni realizes that this feels weirder because Shelby’s also not saying anything and suddenly, Toni finds herself in a staring contest with another human being instead of a dog— something that doesn’t have a calming effect on her at all.

It doesn’t get any less nerve-wracking when she’s basically forced to notice things about Shelby, like her practically perfect face and how her eyes are almost as green as the trees around them, now that she doesn’t really have a choice but to keep looking at her and fuck— this feels like a really inappropriate time to be gay. It only gets worse when she starts picking up on shit like her hair seeming blonder even though it’s put up in a messy bun and that this is the first time Toni’s seen her with her hair up in general. And maybe it’s because Toni tried her hardest to hate her before and this whole encounter has taken her so off guard, but Shelby is undeniably, breathtakingly beautiful. And Toni’s absolutely terrified of the blush that immediately rises to her cheeks as soon as that thought manifests in her stupid, gay brain.

Just as Toni’s thoughts shift to how Shelby looks cute with her cheeks still flushed, Tammy— thank fuck— rips her out of her gay spiral with a loud and unexpected bark that makes both of them flinch and then awkwardly chuckle.

“So… we should probably get going,” Shelby starts and Toni’s grateful she’s been freed from her gay panic. But at the same time, she’s more than a little disappointed about having to say goodbye to Tammy again. And only Tammy, of course.

“Right.” She presses her lips together in her best attempt at a polite smile, her previous glee evaporated.

Toni knows it must be obvious to Shelby because not soon after, she mirrors Toni’s polite but unconvincing smile. She starts to fidget again, like how she behaved the last time Toni had seen her at the shelter, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, playing with the leash in her hand.

“Do you wanna join us maybe? If you’re not too busy?” Shelby asks shyly, not really meeting Toni’s eyes and looks like she thinks that— for whatever absurd reason— Toni rejecting her offer is the most likely reaction to her question.

Toni’s “yes” shoots out of her quicker than she expected, and Shelby looks so surprised Toni can’t help but add a sheepish, “I’d really like that.”

If she thinks about how she treated Shelby when they first met and barely interacted with her during their walks, Toni gets that Shelby might be a bit stunned by her reaction. She hasn’t been the friendliest but that was when Shelby was in the middle of taking Tammy away from her and now, she’s standing in front of her, offering Toni to spend time with Tammy and she didn’t think she was ever going to have that again.

So, yeah, she’s gonna try to be nicer now just to get to spend more time with Tammy. And that reason only.

“Great!” Shelby says. “Should we?” She points past Toni and Toni nods her head quickly in approval.

Tammy starts to bark with joy as soon as she realizes that the both of them are going to keep walking, and even though Toni’s still embarrassed by her lack of social skills and the overall situation she’s found herself in, she’s mostly really, really happy to be walking with Tammy again. Tammy, who is immediately back to being attached to Toni’s legs even though she hasn’t seen her in weeks.

Similar to their first meeting, they walk in silence again. But Toni’s thoughts aren’t clouded with anger this time, so she picks up on Shelby’s nervous energy. Toni figures it’s time to make good on that resolution to be nicer.

“So, how has it been, living together with her?” Toni asks and tries her hardest to convey that she’s actually interested and not just asking out of pettiness because Shelby ended up beating her to the adoption.

“Oh, just fantastic! It took her a moment to get used to the new environment but I’d say she’s all settled in now!” Shelby is all too happy to report. “First couple of days she wouldn’t do anything else than sit in front of the front door and just stare outside as if she’d been waiting for someone, but now she’s switched to barely leaving enough space for me on the couch.”

The way Shelby says it, with a laugh, like it’s the best thing that has ever happened to her instead of something that a lot of people would probably find annoying, warms Toni’s heart and she can’t help but smile.

“Oh, and she’s also gettin’ better with other dogs. Or at least Becca’s! My friend who adopted Bob, if you remember, ” She says excitedly.

“Yeah, I remember.”

“We’ve been hanging out a lot so they can get used to each other. And we’ve been training. I’m waitin’ to make sure she’s really listening to me before completely letting her off the leash. She’s been doing real well ’til today. Clearly, we’ve still got some work to do. She didn’t listen to me at all as soon as she saw you. Ripped the leash right out of my hand. I’m really sorry about that.”

Toni can’t help but chuckle at Shelby apologizing for what might’ve as well been the best thing that has happened to her in a while. “Seriously, Shelby. It’s cool. I don’t mind getting knocked off my feet if it’s this one doing it.” She points to Tammy, who’s still walking between the two of them.

Shelby throws her a grateful smile before she goes on about all the tricks she’s been trying to teach her, how Tammy went back to being stubborn about it for the first weeks at her new home. Which makes Toni laugh because it sounds very similar to the experience she’s had with her, something that Shelby didn’t have during their time at the shelter because back then, Tammy’s already gotten used to someone acting like a clown to teach her something. Shelby beams at her while Toni’s talking about the hard time Tammy gave her initially when she first taught her how to sit and this time when Shelby calls her a natural, it doesn’t leave nearly as much of a bitter taste in her mouth as the first time and Toni happily takes the compliment.

The reminder of her time with Tammy before Shelby does kind of throw her into a spiral, only getting stronger the more time moves on and the closer they’re getting to parting ways and going home. Because while this has been the best walk she’s been on in a while, it might also be the last. Toni’s over the moon seeing Tammy this happy and obviously Shelby’s taking great care of her, but Toni would be lying if she said that she wouldn’t prefer taking Tammy home with her at the end of the walk.

It dimmers her mood significantly— the idea of having to say goodbye to Tammy again— but she tries her best to not let that ruin the rest of the time they have together.

They come to a halt in front of a house right at the edge of the forest they spend the last hour walking in together and it’s so close to Toni’s new home, she recognizes the neighborhood from one of the times Martha forced her out of the house to go exploring right after she’d moved. It takes Toni a second to catch on and realize they’re stopping because this is Shelby’s place when the other woman pulls out a keychain out of her pocket. Toni just stares at her while she’s sorting out the keys in one hand, Tammy’s leash in the other because Shelby lives really fucking close to her. So close that it’s kind of a miracle they hadn’t accidently ran into each other sooner. Toni’s tries to wrap her head around the gigantic coincidence that she happened to move into an apartment that ended up close to the person’s home that ended up adopting the dog she moved for.

Marty’s not going to believe this.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” Shelby’s eyes widen as she notices that Toni’s just been mindlessly staring at her for a minute. “With all the talking, I completely forgot to ask you where you’re headed. Where do you have to go? We can walk you there.”

“It’s cool, Shelby, it’s like a five-minute walk up the street to my place.”

The words feel surreal as Toni says them and it takes everything to not think about how easy it would be to just meet Shelby here every Wednesday and Saturday and continue to walk Tammy together. But Shelby doesn’t owe her anything, and it’s not like Toni’s been particularly open to her from the get-go, so Shelby probably doesn’t like her. She’s probably only been nice to her for Tammy’s sake, so Toni doesn’t expect Shelby to want her around.

She can practically hear Martha’s voice inside of her head, telling her to just woman up and ask Shelby if she can join them every once in a while or walk Tammy by herself in case Shelby ever gets too busy, but unfortunately, Toni’s never been very good at asking for the things she wants or needs.

“Oh wow! It’s crazy we haven’t run into each other yet! Wait, how’d I never see you on the way to the shelter? I took the bus a couple of times, too.”

“I only moved here like a week before you adopted her, so it hasn’t been that long yet.”

Toni hopes Shelby won’t ask her why because the last thing she wants to do right now is admit she was ready to change a big part of her life to make space for Tammy— even after she found out that Shelby was planning on adopting her.

“What a nice coincidence!” Shelby answers and Toni’s relieved she doesn’t press for more information. “Do you still go to the shelter?”

“No, Martha’s been asking me to but I haven’t had the time to go.” Toni semi lies; she doesn’t want to tell Shelby that there hasn’t really been a point of her going if she’s not going to see Tammy.

“That’s Marcus’ girlfriend, right? I didn’t know you guys were close.”

“Yeah, she’s practically my sister.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

They stare at each other again and Toni knows she should probably say goodbye and make her way back to her place, but Shelby looks at her as if she’s waiting for her to say something, or as if she wants to say something herself, so Toni stays there, frozen in place.

“Why didn’t you come?” Shelby asks and Toni feels herself stiffen, because even without Shelby clarifying, she knows exactly what she’s talking about. “You know, the day I took her home with me.”

Shelby looks nervous and Toni can’t really figure out why but it doesn’t really matter anyway because she’s not planning on telling the truth. “I was sick.”

Shelby presses her lips together and nods slowly, not looking convinced at all so Toni adds an “I’m sorry” and “I was pretty disappointed I didn’t get to say goodbye to this one,” trying not to make it obvious that the disappointment was so big it kept her inside the house entirely.

It does make Shelby smile again.

“Well, I’m real glad we ran into you, ” She starts and still seems nervous, though a bit less than before. “Cause I was gonna ask you if you wanted to keep walking with us? Tammy obviously really likes you and I… I enjoy your company.” Shelby’s eyes flicker between Toni’s and the ground, her hands fiddling with her keys and the leash, while Tammy’s stands next to her, her tail wagging.

“Wait, you do?” Toni asks, because even though Shelby unexpectedly offered the one thing she’s been hoping for most, the most baffling part of her statement was definitely the last.

It’s Toni’s turn to be nervous now as every sign of it falls off Shelby and she laughs out.

“Yeah, Toni.”

Toni doesn’t get it and it must be pretty obvious how she’s stuck in her confusion. Shelby spares her the humiliation of letting her stare at her for another minute. “So, what do you say?”

“Yes!” Toni says way too quickly as soon as her brain figures out the thinking thing again. “I’d love to.” And this time, Shelby doesn’t look nearly as surprised by Toni’s enthusiasm to join their walks as she did earlier.

“Great.” Shelby puts the keys and leash in one hand and holds out the other. “Do you have your phone with you? I’ll give you my number.”

Toni nods, still in the middle of processing what is going on right now. She takes her phone out and hands it over. She watches as Shelby bites her lip while tapping on the phone before giving it back. “Text me?”

“Yeah, definitely.”

“Great.”

Before the silence between them can settle and turn awkward again, Tammy barks out once, drawing the attention of both of them.

“I guess, I should go, ” Toni says but instead of moving away, bends down to scratch Tammy’s head.

“See you soon?” Shelby asks and for some reason not quite comprehensible to Toni, still looks nervous.

“Yeah,” Toni answers with a smile as she straightens up and points her thumb backwards. “I’ll eh— goodbye.”

“Bye, Toni.”

She walks a couple steps backwards, sees how Shelby waves at her and how Tammy tries to follow her only to be stopped by the leash. She doesn’t try to break free, though Toni hears her whine the tiniest bit and it breaks Toni’s heart a little, but then she remembers Shelby’s invitation and her number in her phone which means that she’s definitely going to see her again. When Toni turns around to walk, there’s no point in fighting the gigantic smile on her face.