This story appeared in the April 2019 newsletter. There was a sequel the next month. If you like these, make sure you sign up for Dev’s News Flash. I send out an original piece of fiction every month. I hope you enjoy this one.
Good Girl (Part 1)
“No, Sophie. Not again.”
Sophie looked up from the manure pile she was rolling in, a big grin on her shaggy face. I sighed, realizing I needed to add dog washing to my to-do list. Again.
Sophie was an Old English Sheepdog I inherited along with the farm when my grandfather passed. She’d been a puppy then and now was a big, strong, five-year-old dog who loved to roll in shit and to chase the chickens. She was also my best friend.
Not that there was a lot of competition for that position. At thirty I’d become the gay version of the proverbial Norwegian bachelor farmer. It wasn’t that I wanted to be alone, but between feeding animals, milking cows, gathering eggs, mending my grandfather’s old equipment and tending the garden, there wasn’t a lot of time to socialize. It turned out there was a lot more romance in the idea of a small organic farm than there was in the reality.
My sister kept telling me to sell the place and move somewhere I could meet people, by which she meant a man. I liked the idea of meeting a man, liked it a lot, but I didn’t want to move away from the farm to do it. Even though it was hard, lonely work that made my muscles ache, just walking out the door on a lovely spring morning and taking a deep breath of fresh air made it all worthwhile. What I needed was to meet someone local. Preferably a guy who liked dogs.
Of course, I always had Sophie for companionship. Even if she was the stinkiest dog around, she was my good girl. But I drew the line at tracking manure into the house.
“Okay, Soph,” I called to her. “Bath time.”
Sophie loved rolling in crap, but she hated baths. She’d bite the hose and squirm and yelp whenever I tried to pull a comb through her hair. After half an hour, I turned off the hose. She shook and I was blanketed in soapy water. I sat back on my heels. We still had a few hours before the cows needed milking.
“That’s it. We’re going to the groomers. It’s time for your summer crewcut.”
She wagged her tail and grinned at me. “Going” was one of her favorite words.
About once a year, in the spring, I drove Sophie into town to get shaved down by the local groomer, Ginger, an older woman who lived above the shop. I’d drawn blood the one time I’d tried shaving Sophie on my own. Some things are best left to the professionals. I threw a towel onto the seat of the truck and let her jump in, then went inside to change into a clean shirt so she’d be the only one who was filthy when we went into town.
When we got to the groomers, no one was behind the desk, which meant Ginger was in back with another dog. I told Sophie to sit, then rang the bell. The curtain between the front and the back parted and a man walked through. He had long blond hair tied up in a bun and a red-blond stubble beard. Lean and tall, he carried himself like a dancer. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
He considered me for a long moment before turning his attention to Sophie and smiling. “It looks like someone didn’t make it through bath time.”
“Um, yeah.” I stuttered. “Is Ginger free this afternoon?”
“Ginger retired. I bought the place from her last month. Let me check my schedule,” he said distractedly as he peered at the computer while I took in the deep blue of his eyes. He looked back at Sophie. “She’s going to take some time.”
I tore my gaze away from him and looked down at my soapy, dirty, matted dog. “I should have called ahead but Ginger always let me walk in. All she needs is a shave.”
He raised an eyebrow, the side of his mouth twitching, “That is definitely not all she needs.” He smiled. “Lucky for you I don’t have anything else scheduled this afternoon so I can get to her as soon as I finish the poodle I’m working on now.” He glanced again at the computer. “What’s your name?”
I cleared my throat. I knew he was asking so he could look up Sophie, but having this gorgeous man know my name felt intimate.
“Dave, I’m Dave Webster.”
“Pleased to meet you Dave Webster.” He extended a hand across the counter. “Joshua Franklin.”
His hand was cool, but strong. I didn’t want to let go. His smile widened. I blushed and dropped his hand. He cocked his head and stared at me for a moment, then he dropped his focus to the computer and typed. “David Webster, so this must be Sophie.” He came around the desk and squatted down in front of her. “Are you a good girl, Sophie?”
“Most of the time,” I answered for her. “But she hates baths.”
“We’ll see what we can do about that, won’t we?” He rubbed her chest. She leaned forward and licked his face.
“Sophie, no licking.” I scolded.
Joshua met my gaze. “Don’t worry, I like a good face-licking every now and then.”
He stood and we stayed like that for a long moment, just looking at each other as my heart sped up.
Joshua reached for Sophie’s lead. Our fingers brushed and I felt a zing of excitement.
“You can leave her here if you want,” Joshua paused and tilted his head, “or you could come back and keep her company while I finish with the poodle.”
My pulse raced. It had been so long since I flirted that I felt awkward in my skin. I cleared my throat. “Sure, I’d um, I’ve never seen the back, I mean, thank you, that would be nice.”
“You’re blushing. That’s so cute.” Joshua held open the curtain. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
The room was like the milking room at the farm, all easily swabbed down surfaces so clean they gleamed. The smell was different though, wet dog and floral shampoo rather than disinfectant and hot milk. Still, the familiarity calmed me.
“Have a seat.” Joshua pointed to one side of the room where a straight chair sat next to a small writing table.
I sat on the chair and wrapped both my hands in Sophie’s ruff. She shifted restlessly when Joshua turned on his clippers.
“Shh, it’ll be okay.” I whispered to her. “Be a good girl for Daddy, will you? We need to make a good impression.”
She looked up at me with those big eyes, one brown and one blue, as if she understood. Then with a sigh, she flopped on the floor at my feet, the perfect image of a well behaved, if filthy, dog.
I watched Joshua groom the poodle. He kept one steadying hand on him and made little murmuring noises. The poodle stayed still, his eyes half closed, as if in bliss, as Joshua’s clippers caressed his back in long, smooth strokes. It was mesmerizing.
When he’d finished, the poodle looked handsome without any ridiculous bows or poofy bits. It was a cut a dog could be proud of. He held his head high as Joshua led him to a big crate full of soft surfaces and chew toys. Once the poodle was settled, Joshua came over to us. He squatted and ran his hand along Sophie’s matted coat.
“She’s a farm dog.” I apologized. “She doesn’t like to be washed or brushed.”
“I bet.” Joshua fingered one of her dread-like mats. “Pulling on these would hurt.” He looked up at me. His expression was kind. “If I clip these mats off, she’ll be more comfortable.”
I nodded. “That’s what we do every spring. Ginger just shaved her practically bald.”
“We could do that.” Joshua kept petting Sophia, but he was looking up at me. “Or we could go with something like a puppy cut that would leave her more fur but wouldn’t need to be brushed all the time.”
I was nodding, lost in the blue of his eyes.
He held my gaze. “It would mean you’d have to come in more often, though. Once a month, at least.”
The thought of seeing this beautiful man that often was intoxicating. But then there was the cost.
I looked away. “I’d like that but, um, I’m just a farmer. I don’t know if I could afford to have her groomed every month.”
“A farmer.” Joshua’s eyes twinkled. “Maybe we could do some bartering. What do you grow on your farm?”
“Eggs and milk, mostly. Plus, vegetables in the summer. And the occasional chicken, of course.”
“Eggs and milk and vegetables are some of my very favorite foods. And I’d do a lot for the occasional chicken.” Joshua smiled. “Especially delivered by a handsome farmer, say on a Friday night?”
I smiled back at him. “That can be arranged.”
“Good.” Joshua stood. “Now let’s get this dirty girl cleaned up.”
As I trailed him over to the wash station, it occurred to me maybe I wouldn’t have to be the gay version of a Norwegian bachelor farmer forever. And Sophie, she was the kind of friend willing to get into shit in order to get me out of the house so I could meet someone. Now that was a good girl.
Joshua looked back over his shoulder. He smiled at me and my heart went pitter-pat. I grinned at him. It was time to bring romance back into my reality and clearly Joshua was the man for the job. It had been a long time since I’d looked forward to Friday.
Now I couldn’t wait.