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Aug 23

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The Fidelity of Dogs

Summary: Dale is forced home for a visit when a favorite aunt falls ill, leaving Ari alone for a week.

“History is more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of men.” – Alexander Pope

Ari picked up one of the T-shirts from Dale’s bag and brought it to her face. Dale took it away from her mid-sniff and put it back in. “You’re going to make me late if you keep unpacking everything after I pack it. No sense in prolonging it.”

“You might miss your flight. I could have you for another few hours until you get a new one.”

“Ari…”

“How favorite is this aunt, anyway? I mean, did she give you a kidney? Did she save you from a runaway horse-and-buggy?”

“You really know nothing about Pennsylvania, do you?”

“I know there are Amish,” Ari said, lifting a pair of folded jeans to see the underwear packed underneath. Dale slapped her hand away. “You lived near Amish people.”

“Yes, we did. But we weren’t Amish.” She sighed and closed the suitcase. “Aunt Pauline is not just my favorite aunt, Ari, she’s one of my favorite people. When I was fifteen and I was looking at girls, Pauline is the only one I told. She’s the one who made me feel okay about it. She accepted me for who I am, and I’ve never forgotten that. I’m going to be there for her.”

Ari sighed. “I know. I just wish I could go with you.”

Dale pressed her lips together sympathetically, cupping Ari’s cheek. “I know. But I’m still not out to Daddy, and it would be too hard to–“

“You don’t have to explain it.” She kissed the inside of Dale’s wrist. “I’m going to really miss you.”

“Yeah. And this isn’t easy for me, you know.” She put her arms around Ari and held her tightly, hunching so she could put her head on Ari’s chest. “We haven’t been apart for a week since we’ve known each other. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”

Ari stroked her hair. “I know. But your aunt is important. You need to go to her. I’ll still be here when you get back.” She kissed the top of Dale’s head. “Love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I’ll carry your bag down.”

“Thank you. And I’ll call you. We’ll email, text, whatever we have to do so it doesn’t feel as far away as it is.”

“Any idea how far exactly it is?”

“Between here and Harrisburg? About twenty-eight hundred miles.”

Ari nodded. “Okay. The wolf probably won’t take off some night and try to find you.”

Dale pressed against Ari’s side. “Aw. Like those pets who travel across continents to find lost owners? I’ll leave the back porch light on just in case.”

“Thank you.”

Dale locked her apartment door behind them and followed Ari downstairs. They kept their airport goodbye brief, kissing on the sidewalk outside. Ari leaned against the side of the car and watched Dale go inside, quickly disappearing thanks to the glare on the sliding doors. Finally Ari got back into the car and pulled away from the curb. Her phone buzzed and, when she could safely glance at the screen, she saw a message from Dale.

“Miss you.”

Ari smiled and put the phone down, waiting for an opportune moment to text back. She was glad she hadn’t broken the silence. Aunt Pauline, Dale’s favorite family member, had gone to the ER with abdominal pains. The doctors diagnosed an inflammation of the gallbladder, and she was scheduled to have it removed first thing in the morning. Since Pauline was a widow and didn’t have any children of her own, Dale volunteered to fly out and act as nursemaid for a week.

Ari was certain she could survive on her own for a week. The office was a perpetual motion machine. All she had to do was keep it on the rails until she got back to take over again. Piece of cake. She could do it with both hands tied behind her back.

#

On Thursday, Ari was late for work because she’d stranded herself on a golf course east of the 5. She had thought to tire herself out with a quick transformation and a run around the block as the wolf, taking a break from her solitude and loneliness. Unfortunately the wolf seemed to have picked up on her feelings and took an immediate easterly course. Ari was sure it hadn’t planned to go all the way to Pennsylvania, but it got her far enough away from home to cause a problem.

She managed to find a stash and used some of the money to buy herself a coffee while she waited for the bus. By the time she got back to her apartment – her lonely and dreary apartment – she was too stiff to take off the thrift shop clothes before she fell into bed. She slept through her alarm, the soreness even worse as she walked like Frankenstein’s monster to the bathroom. Showering would have been impossible even if she could have undresses, so she just splashed some water on her face at the sink, finger-combed her hair, and walked to the office in an attempt to loosen up her muscles.

She was halfway there when she remembered she was supposed to have a Skype chat with a potential client at eleven. Cursing under her breath she started to run, the pain emanating from her spine as she finally dropped into the chair behind her desk. Unbathed, wearing second- or third-hand clothes, sweating from her impromptu jog, and wincing with pain at her post-transformation soreness, she signed on just two minutes before the client was supposed to call.

“Wonderful,” she muttered. “Way to make a first impression on a client.” She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and grabbed the jacket she had tossed onto the couch. She had just zipped it up as the client connected. She put on her eyeglasses. They were an affectation that she occasionally used to feel more professional, but today she hoped they would hide the bags under her eyes.

The client appeared on-screen, looking completely together and flawless even though she was currently in a war zone. Her black hair was slicked back and gathered in a tight bun that let no strand free, the collar of her fatigues open to reveal an olive-drab shirt underneath. She smiled and lifted one hand in greeting. “Hi. Corporal Faith de la Cruz. You’re the private investigator?”

“That’s me. Ariadne Willow. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.” She smiled. “Gotta say, this is a first for me, a client hiring me from all the way across the world.”

Faith smiled nervously. “Well, I would’ve waited until I got back, but what you find out is going to inform how I react upon my return.”

“I’ll do what I can to help.”

Faith looked down at her hands, which she was fiddling with below the screen. She turned to look past her shoulder to make sure no one had snuck up while she wasn’t looking and lowered her voice when she began to explain.

“It’s my girl. Lynn. See, I’ve been over here for eighteen months. We were only together for seven before I joined up. We swore we would keep in touch, we’d talk every night, but things got in the way. You know how they do.”

Ari tried to keep her face neutral and tried not to see the parallels. Dale was only going away for a week, just a visit. But still, it made her squirm a little. “Yeah, I’ve been there myself.”

“Last few months, getting closer to me coming home, she’s started acting squirrelly. I’m trying to play it cool, you know, letting her know that I don’t expect to pick up right where we left off and that I understand if she didn’t wait for me. She swears she isn’t seeing anyone, but I have a feeling. I think she feels obligated to make things work with me because I’ve been over here. But I don’t want to upset her life all over again. If she’s single then fine… we can try again. Round Two, or whatever. But if she’s with someone, I want to let her go. I just need to know what’s really going on before I make any decisions.”

Ari nodded. “I understand. I’ll need you to email me some information; pictures, work address, anything you can think of that might help.”

“Cool. I got it all ready to send. And I can wire you the money Western Union.”

“Wait until I invoice you. I want to be sure you get the full military discount.”

“Oh. Thanks. Much appreciated, Ms. Willow.”

“Least I can do. We appreciate what you’re doing over there.”

She smiled humbly and nodded. “We can arrange future conversations in email. I’m not really sure when I’ll be available–“

“I’ll work around your schedule. I like to give updates once a week, so we’ll try for another call on Sunday. I’m usually up at all hours anyway, so whenever you can get some time will work for me. Stay safe.”

“Thanks.”

They disconnected and Ari switched over to her email. The message had just arrived, and she clicked to read a dossier on Lynn McIntosh. She copied the information on her phone and pushed her chair back. “Hey, Dale?” She was still speaking when she remembered there wouldn’t be an answer, muttering under her breath at the slip of the brain. “Never mind,” she whispered to herself. She rolled her shoulders, wincing as she twisted her whole upper body to look at the clock. According to the information, Lynn wouldn’t break for lunch until one o’clock. Plenty of time to stretch out on the couch and take a quick nap.

She hoped she would be able to move when she woke up.

#

She woke to find she had slept through a text from Dale. She remained flat on her back, the phone held over her face, as she read it. “Arrived safely in Amish country. Smells like home and feels like it used to, but not like home anymore. You smell like home now.” Ari had to blink a few times before she could read the rest of the message. “Aunt Pauline doing fine! A little scared, but I think I’m helping.”

“I know you are,” Ari whispered. “You’re good at that.”

“Hope you’re okay. Love you. Miss you. D.”

Ari wiped a finger under her eyes and typed a reply. “Hey. Doing fine! Got a new case, going to start it today. Wish you were here but glad you’re there for AP. Say hi to daddy for me. Heart-shape. A.” She turned off the phone and sat up, crying out as a searing hot wedge jammed itself between two lower vertebrae. She held position, praying it would dissipate, and drew her legs up to her chest.

She hadn’t hurt this bad after a transformation in ages. Surely missing one single massage wouldn’t cause her such agony. Surely Dale’s constant attention had made her a little more resilient than that. Her back seemed to differ with her beliefs, and she put her hands against it as she eased herself up off the couch. Her bones popped and groaned as she stood up, forcing herself to rise out of her hunch to stand up straight. She went back to her desk, shuffling her feet across the carpet, and took two aspirin out of the bottom drawer. She swallowed them dry and rested her hands against the edge of the desk as she waited for it to kick in.

At least the case involved a lot of sitting in the car and watching doors. She didn’t know what she would do if she thought she’d have to use the wolf.

#

She stopped at home to change, still wincing if she had to stretch but capable of getting out of the stash clothes and into something reasonably presentable. She took advantage of her nudity to take a quick shower, leaving her hair down so she didn’t have to bother with an elastic band, then dressed in a baggy blouse and loose jeans. She had a lot of loose clothes that she could slip in and out of in case of emergency transformation, but today it was all about taking it easy on her joints.

By the time she drove across town and parked in front of Lynn McIntosh’s workplace, a handful of people had already taken position in the courtyard with bags of food from nearby restaurants. Ari looked at the picture on her phone and scanned the crowd until she spotted her target. Lynn was alarmingly tall, with blonde bangs that covered her eyebrows. She was standing in front of two people who had taken seats on a bench, both of them watching her with unwavering attention as she spoke.

According to Faith’s information, Lynn was an options broker. It had something to do with the stock market, and that was all Ari could figure out or cared to understand about that. From the way she held court she seemed to be rather high on the totem pole. The two men she was speaking to occasionally nodded, sometimes smiled, and seemed to be very eager to gain her approval or even her notice.

Ari wondered how Faith and Lynn had met. Random interlude at a bar? Mutual acquaintance set them up on a blind date? There were an infinite number of possibilities. What possible logic was there to a freckled daughter of a Jewish dentist from Amish country meeting and falling in love with a wild and reckless runaway from Seattle? The world was full of invisible paths that people walked without realizing it, and trying to guess where they were going or where they had started was an exercise in madness.

Her phone chimed and she kept an eye on Lynn as she fished it out. “How bad are you hurt? D”

She stared at the message for a long time before she replied. “Why do you think I’m hurt? A.”

“You said ‘Doing fine!’ You would have bitched about how much you wanted a massage but you didn’t want me to worry. How bad are you hurt? D”

Ari was touched and annoyed at the same time, chuckling at her own conflicting emotions as she sent a message back. “Not as bad as I was this morning. It was bad, Dale. But I’m better now. I promise. A”

“Cross your heart?”

“I swear. Be there for your aunt. I have to work now. Love you. A.”

“Love you, too. I’ll try to be online tonight. D”

“Can’t wait. Hopefully I won’t be at work. A”

“fingers crossed! D”

Ari smiled and put the phone on the dashboard. Across the street, Lynn had finished her speech and was sitting next to the men so she could eat her flatbread sandwich. “Do me a favor,” she whispered to the woman. “If you’ve moved on from your soldier girl, give me some evidence before sundown.”

#

Lynn remained boring for the rest of the day, driving straight home from work. Ari stayed and watched for a few hours, leaving for dinner and then returning to see if any new cars had arrived in her absence. The lights went out a little past eight-thirty and the house became silent and still. Ari watched for another half hour and decided to end her day as well. On the bright side, her pain had been steadily decreasing all night.

She checked her phone multiple times for messages as she ate her take-out dinner for one in front of the television, trying to make the best of being alone by watching a show Dale didn’t like. The enjoyment was short-lived, and she realized she didn’t like it as much without Dale’s sarcastic commentary. She eventually turned off the TV and got online.

If Dale was there, she would have used her “white magic skills” to take a peek at Lynn’s financials. A hacker friend had set up the program for her. It didn’t allow her to make any changes to the information, and the account numbers were scrambled by the time they were displayed on-screen, but it allowed her to get a peek at what the target was spending money on. Ari clicked around on her laptop for a while but gave up and settled on YouTube.

She had spent nights apart from Dale since they started dating. When they were either too tired or just wanted a little space after spending the whole day together at the office, they would go their separate ways. But it was one thing to sleep alone by choice, and quite another to do it because Dale was on the other side of the country. The sun was already setting there, she was having different weather, and Ari had never felt more cut off from her.

She finally gave up her decision to wait until Dale made contact and sent her a message. “Missing you like crazy. Any idea how I went to sleep before we dated…? A”

After eight minutes, Dale texted back. “lol. Go for a run? D”

The thought of another morning in agony didn’t appeal. “Rather be working up a sweat with you. What time is it there? A”

“Little after 12. @ Dad’s house,” Dale replied a minute later. “Ease up on the flirts!”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s just awkward. Otherwise I’d say go for it. D” She added a semicolon and a parenthesis to make a smile.

“I’ll probably just curl up and hope for the best. Love to Papa. Love to you. A”

“Love you, too. SWAK”

“SWAK?”

“Sealed With a Kiss.”

Ari laughed and replied with a colon and an asterisk to return the kiss. She plugged the phone into the charger, slid down, and drew the blankets up over her chest. She tossed and turned, staring at the ceiling before she closed her eyes and tried boring herself to sleep. When that failed she turned on the radio. She couldn’t find any music she liked, so she kicked back the blankets and pulled her clothes back on. She grabbed her phone and slipped it into her pocket before she left the apartment.

Dale’s apartment was only half a mile away so she walked, stretching muscles that just twelve hours earlier had felt carved out of stone. She let herself into Dale’s apartment with her spare key and turned on the living room light. She stood behind the couch and closed her eyes, letting her mind slip sideways into the wolf’s territory. Her sense of smell became heightened, her hearing more astute, and she ignored the sounds coming from other apartments until they were just a quiet hum of white noise.

Once she was centered, she drew in a deep breath. Dale. The scent was strong enough that the primal part of her mind was almost convinced Dale was there. She bit back the excitement and crossed through the living room, going down the dark hall to the bedroom. She stripped down to her underwear and crawled under the blankets. She had taken her phone out of her pocket and she sent Dale a new message.

“I broke into your place. A”

“Everything okay? D”

“I thought maybe smelling you would help me sleep. A”

“Poor baby 🙁 You’re more than welcome to spend the night there.”

“Thank you. I felt guilty. And pathetic.”

“You’re not pathetic. Are you wearing your Rescue Rangers nightshirt? D”

Ari wondered what possible difference that could make, but she thought it might be a variation of ‘what are you wearing.’ She sent back: “No, just a plain white T and panties. A”

“You aren’t wearing Gadget because I stole it. I dressed my pillow in it. I may not have a wolf nose, but I can smell you on it. D”

Ari smiled. “Love you.”

“Sweet dreams, Ariadne”

“Talk to you tomorrow, Dale.”

She hung up again and put the phone on the nightstand. She pulled Dale’s pillow to her chest, cradled her face against it, and felt sleep taking her over. She curled up under the blankets and drifted off into an easy sleep. She dreamt, perhaps unsurprisingly, of Dale. They started out in the car, and then Ari got out and started jogging down the street. In the middle of her jog her clothes melted away from her body and she dropped to all fours. She was vaguely aware of her legs kicking under the blankets, the dog-chasing-rabbit reaction that the wolf sometimes caused when she was asleep and unable to hold back its influence.

The dream changed to a large empty room Ari had never seen before, but somehow she recognized it as a hospital room. Dale was sitting in a chair, idly reading a magazine, but she looked up with a pleased expression when Ari crossed to her. She offered her hand, Dale took it, and Ari pulled her up out of the seat. They held each other, hands roaming each other’s bodies before they finally kissed.

Ari was jarred from the dream when her knuckles rapped against the headboard. Still groggy, she realized she had freed one leg from the blanket. She lifted her other leg and gathered the blanket between them, angling her hips to press against the bulky material. She turned her head to bury her face in Dale’s pillow, inhaling deeply – shampoo and sweat – and managed to convince her sleepy human brain and her easily-fooled wolf mind into thinking the pliable shape in her arms was actually Dale.

Her breath came in ragged gasps, her cheeks ballooning against the pillow as she tried to breathe in only Dale’s scent; the bland oxygen of the room didn’t matter as much to her as that precious scent of her lover. Her shirt rode up to expose her belly, and she ran her fingernails over it as she filled her mind with images of Dale in passion. Her cheeks red, strands of loose hair across her face, brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to hold back her orgasm before she gave up and gave in.

Now Ari was the one trying to make it last, eyes squeezed shut as she rubbed herself against Dale’s tangled blankets, throwing her head back with her teeth bared. She felt the wolf itching at the perimeter of her consciousness, felt the bleeding blackness at the corners of her vision even though her eyes were closed. Dale liked when the wolf came out to play during their lovemaking. To an extent, anyway. She didn’t want Ari sprouting hair and fangs, but she was an admitted fan of Ari going just a little wild. Biting, scratching but not breaking the skin, losing a bit of control in order to reach a shattering, shouting orgasm that left them both weak in the knees. So Ari let herself go just a little, felt the fog rolling through her brain as her muscles tensed in anticipation. Her skin prickled and almost hardened, and she felt the thrill of a transformation pass through her as she rolled onto all-fours.

She straddled the blanket, holding it down with her feet as she pulled it taut with her arms. She thrust her hips hard, making the headboard rattle and the box springs shout, and then she threw her head back and howled. She was still in human form, but she dropped her jaw and let her tongue pulsate against her lower lip as she panted, hunching forward and closing her knees around the blanket, dropping onto her side with a “woof” of released air.

After a moment she freed herself from the blankets and draped them across her hip, pushed her hair out of her face, and forced the wolf back into the shadows. Her mind settled, and the tremor went out of her vision as she rested her cheek against the pillow she had just molested. As the wolf retreated so had her heightened senses, but she could still pick up just a hint of Dale, just enough to carry her to sleep.

#

The next morning Ari was outside of Lynn McIntosh’s condo bright and early, parked near the end of the street where she had a clear line of sight to the driveway. Lynn came out a few minutes past six in her pajamas and brought the trash bin back up to the house, then disappeared back inside. Ari had an Egg McMuffin and an orange juice, a cap pulled low on her head and sunglasses to ward against the glare of the rising sun. She’d slept extremely well, and woke up without the assistance of an alarm. The soreness of the previous day was just an unpleasant memory. The only thing currently getting her down was the lack of Dale, but that would be remedied soon enough.

A few minutes before seven-thirty, Lynn came back out with a cell phone tucked against her ear. She got into her car and drove in the direction of downtown. Ari gave her a few seconds of a head-start before falling in behind. Lynn stopped to get coffee at Starbucks, then drove into the underground garage of the building Ari had staked out the previous day. She made a note: “So far nothing to report. No encounters, no visitors, nothing but home and work with no stops in between.”

The true test would be that night and the next. If Lynn went the weekend without hooking up with someone, then Ari would feel confident reporting to Faith that Lynn was waiting for her. She didn’t want the task of telling a soldier that her girlfriend had been messing around, even if Faith seemed to expect that response. She took out her phone and saw a message from Dale.

“Dreamed about you last night.”

Ari smiled and sent a response. “Ditto. You may have to wash your sheets.”

This time it took Dale closer to half an hour to respond. “Ooo. Lucky me! I had to be quiet. Papa down the hall.”

“Sexy.”

“??!?”

“Sneaking into a girl’s room, parents down the hall, you both have to be quiet? SEXY.”

Dale sent a raspberry and Ari chuckled, lifting her head to make sure Lynn hadn’t appeared on the street. “On a stakeout. Bored. You?”

“At the hospital with AP. She’s doing well! Home on Sunday, and then I’m OUTTA HERE on Wednesday. Can’t wait to see you.”

“I look different now. I have a comb-over and I gained 100lbs.”

“If I can love you as a wolf, I can love you bald.” Before Ari could reply, Dale sent another message. “Plus 100lbs? You realize you’d still be considered thin if that was true, right?”

Ari laughed. “The canidae diet!”

“It’s foolproof!!” Seconds later another message popped up. “I can’t believe how much I miss you.”

Ari’s smile softened. “You too. At least I can hang out at your place. You’re all cut off out in the boonies.”

“With the Amish.”

Ari chuckled. “Next time you want to leave town for a week, I think your boss will refuse to give you the time off.”

“Good.”

Ari tried to think of another message to send, but she was surprised when the phone rang instead. Dale’s picture appeared on the screen and she eagerly answered. “Hey.”

“I had to hear your voice. Texting just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Hi. Hello.”

“Hey, Dale.” She closed her eyes. “Missed you.”

“Missed you, too. Tell me about our case.”

Ari did, explaining that she’d managed to get the Skype working all by herself. Dale expressed surprise and pride, and Ari basked in it. She rested her head against the window and sighed.

“So you’re missing your lady, and you’re dealing with a case of lovers separated. Kind of poetic.”

“Yeah. I really hope I find out she’s been faithful.”

“You think I’ve been unfaithful to you, sweetpea?”

Ari smiled, glad that it was so ludicrous they didn’t even have to feel awkward joking about it. “No. It would just be evidence that people can survive being away from their loved ones for a prolonged period. That just because you’re apart doesn’t mean you’re… apart. You know?”

“I know.”

“Where are you right now?”

“I’m standing outside in the smoke area. It’s warm outside. What’s the temperature there?”

“High fifties.”

“God, I miss that. It’s seventy here.”

Ari hissed. “Ouch.”

“Yeah.”

They were silent for a long time, Ari watching for Lynn while she listened to Dale’s sneakers scuffing the pavement. Ari took a breath, and Dale said, “Don’t.”

“Hm?”

“It’s… if you have something to say, it’s fine. I was just going to say that we can be quiet if you want.” She sighed. “I feel like I have my head on your chest and we’re both just staring off into space, and I love it. I really love it.”

Ari smiled. “Well, nothing I had to say would top that.”

They lapsed back into silence. After a few minutes, Dale said, “God, you’re working. I shouldn’t be distracting you like this. And I should probably go sit with Pauline for a while.”

“Okay. But if you want to talk again later…”

“Daddy is going to be out tonight. Around six o’clock?”

“That’s three o’clock here. I think I can skip out of work for a little while if you want to call me back. Planning to be naughty?”

Dale drew in a deep breath. “Ohh, yeah, I think I am.”

Ari chuckled. “Then I’ll be sure to be ready.”

“Okay. I’m going to let you go. Love you, Ariadne.”

“I love you, too.”

Ari put her phone on the dashboard and settled back against her seat. Her mind wandered and she realized that she was seeing what her life would be like without Dale. A boring track-and-follow case, dragging herself from the office to home when she wasn’t tailing someone for a client. It was like a black-and-white movie; fine to look at for a while, but she didn’t want to live there. Dale gave her color and excitement, she made even the most mundane cases vibrant, and she made everything a little more fun just by being there. She picked up the phone to send Dale a message saying as much, but she decided she was being overly maudlin and discarded the message without sending it.

She would just find a way to let Dale know how she felt once she was back and things had returned to normal.

#

A little before three o’clock Ari pulled away from her perch and drove back to the office. There was a narrow alley that ran behind their building and theirs was the only business blessed with an actual parking area. Parked nose-first into her spot, she wouldn’t be seen by any casual passersby. She didn’t have to wait long; her phone was ringing as she put the car in park and she slid her thumb across the screen as she unhooked her seatbelt.

“Perfect timing.”

“Hey! Good. Dad just left, so I have the house all to myself.”

Ari laughed. “God. Is this what it was like in high school? Sneaking around, calling girls when they were home alone?”

“It was for me. You probably had a different experience.”

“Yeah, a little. So it’s the late nineties. Barenaked Ladies and Smashmouth are on the radio, Little Dale Frye has a feathered haircut and… I don’t know. Legwarmers? What did we wear in the nineties?”

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I was pretty conservative. I did the whole bike shorts under my skirts thing, but I mainly just wore jeans and V-neck sweaters. What did you wear?”

“I was a runaway in Seattle, Dale. I looked like Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. Hacked-off hair, ripped acid-wash jeans, permanent fuck-you expression on my face, the whole deal.”

“Ooh. Sounds scary. I’d have been scared of you, Ari.”

She smiled. “I’d have toned it down if I saw someone like you. Fresh-faced and cute in your little T-shirt. You probably wore Converse high-tops.”

Dale laughed. “Oh, God. I did. Checkerboard pattern.”

Ari rested her head against the window. “So, your dad left you home all alone, huh? Aren’t you scared?”

“Nah. I’m tough. And I got a teddy bear to protect me.”

“Sounds adorable.”

“I’m dead serious, too. Daddy left my room exactly the way I left it. Who says time travel doesn’t exist? I’m starting to think Seattle and my werewolf girlfriend is just a dream I had.”

“I’m your dream girl?”

“Mm-hmm.” She sighed. “I’m stretching out on my bed right now. Looking up at my posters… Joan Jett.”

Ari groaned low in her throat and closed her eyes. “Love me some Joan Jett. The things I wanted to do with that woman. Hell, still do. No offense.”

“None taken. Just take pictures if it happens.”

Ari smiled. “Describe the poster to me.”

“It’s Joan with really feathered, eighties hair, clutching a guitar and staring out.”

“So she watched you every time you brought a girl home, huh?”

“Well, she watched me every time I touched myself at bedtime.”

Ari raised an eyebrow. “That’s still hot.”

Dale laughed. “Yeah… want me to take my jeans off?”

“I really want that.” She moved her free hand up and teased her belt with her thumb as she listened to Dale fumble. She tried to picture it, dropping her hand to unzip her jeans and move her finger inside. She stroked two fingers against the front of her underwear as Dale grunted and then sighed, the mattress making a ‘whump’ sound as she dropped back.

“Pants off, underwear on. I thought it would be sexier that way.”

“You’re right. T-shirt long enough to cover your lap?”

“Yep.”

Ari pictured it and chuckled. “Nice. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have been the one to corrupt you.”

“You’ve corrupted me just fine,” Dale said dreamily. “Touching myself now. Thinking about you. God, I miss you, Ari. Knowing I won’t see you until the middle of next week makes it even worse.”

“I know.” Ari moved her fingers in slow circles. “We’ll just have to make the best of it. Try and…” She inhaled sharply through her nose.

“Are you touching yourself, too?” Dale asked dreamily.

“Mm-hmm.”

“Good…”

They breathed at each other for a few minutes, both holding the phone with one hand while they worked with the other. “Speak,” Dale whispered.

Ari fought the urge to chuckle. “Are you giving me orders like a dog?”

“Full sentences. Too hard. Talk.”

Ari sighed and rolled her head back against the seat. “I wish I could be there with you. See you touching yourself, see you in your old room… I wish I could smell you. Your hair and your neck, and smell you as you turn yourself on.” Dale made a tiny sound of approval. Ari wet her lips and hunched one shoulder to brush her hair away from her cheek. “I wish you could turn your head and see me watching you. I wish I could really be whispering in your ear to distract you from the fact my hand is sliding up under your shirt, then cupping your breast…”

“Ariadne…”

She grunted and rocked her head forward, just the sound of Dale saying her name while touching herself was enough to push her to the edge. “Dale, I’m coming.”

“Come, Ari! Come, girl…”

Ari laughed, the sound tapering into a groan. “Kinky… you’re so bad.”

Dale only whimpered in response. “And you’re my good girl. Such a good girl. Come for me, Ari.”

Ari rubbed her lips together, her fingers crossed over the crotch of her panties, and she patted herself roughly. “I want you to come for me, Dale. Come on, babe… I want to hear you.”

“Ari… God! Ari!” She exhaled sharply a few times, and Ari moved the phone from her ear to tap the top edge against her forehead. She thought she’d missed Dale before, but now the ache was almost physically painful. She moved the phone back to her ear and listened to Dale’s post-climax breathing, the familiar roughness and the little chuckle that began to creep in as she regained control of her faculties.

“Wow. Almost three-thousand miles apart and you still make me brain dead with just your voice.” She exhaled with a ‘whoo,’ and Ari heard her hand flop onto the pillow. “I don’t think I can move for another half-hour.”

“Have you eaten dinner yet?”

“Not yet. I just had lunch at four-thirty, so I’m not hungry yet. I think I’m still on Seattle time.”

Ari nodded. “Probably. You know that casserole thing you have in the freezer? Stouffer’s?”

“Yeah.”

“You should go get one of those for yourself. You cook yours, I’ll cook mine, and we’ll eat at the same time. Eleven o’clock, your time.”

“That’s about what time I’ve been getting hungry.” She chuckled. “I really like that idea. Can I call you so we can talk between bites?”

“Yeah.” Ari smiled and looked out the window. “I’ve missed this, too. Just talking, having dinner together. I love you, Dale.”

“I love you,” Dale whispered back. They were quiet for a moment and then Dale grunted. “You probably have to get back to work. So I’ll let you go now. Talk to you again at dinner?”

“You got it.”

“Kisses.”

“Back to you.” Her finger hovered over the button to end the call, then jabbed it with finality. She wiped the ear-sweat off the screen, grimacing as she cleaned her thumb on the seat next to her leg before returning the phone to her pocket. She backed out of the spot, feeling odd about going all the way back to the office only to leave without going inside. But she had gotten what she needed, and now she had to get back to work.

At the first stoplight she looked down and belatedly remembered to zip up her pants.

#

After work Lynn drove to a nearby sports bar that catered to an all-female clientele. Ari parked and went inside a few minutes later, spotting her in a booth near one of the windows. She took a seat at the bar from which she could look toward Lynn and see a television showing the game. Anyone who caught her staring would just think she was checking the Mariners score. Lynn ordered a drink and then folded her hands in front of her, waiting patiently for someone to take the seat opposite her.

Sister, Ari thought. A client who wanted an after-hours meeting. Just please not a date. Please.

After twenty minutes of waiting, during which Ari was hit on by two different women, Lynn took out her phone and began scrolling through her messages. She was still checking when a brunette hurried up and put a hand on her shoulder. Lynn looked up and Ari closed her eyes. She tried to shut out the rest of the bar and heard their voices muffled by distance and din.

“–ere the hell… …you be–“

“–ad… …tay late …ve you been waiting–“

“–s fine. I’m sorry. I’m just jumpy and… sorry.”

“You’re under a lot of stress. Have you ordered?”

“No, I was waiting for you.”

Ari opened her eyes and the rest of the room’s ruckus came roaring back to her. She winced and put one hand to her ear and watched as the new arrival reached across the table to cover Lynn’s hand with her own. She could still hear their voices like DJs on a radio in the next room. Her canidae hearing could be a blessing and a curse, and she put a finger in the opposite ear so she didn’t have to drown out both sides of the room.

“–oes she get back?”

“–fourteenth. I have no idea what I’m going to do, Kat. I want to do the honorable thing, but I have no idea what that is. I owe you more than just jumping ship. And I owe her for… God, for so much. How can I dump her the second she walks back into my life? ‘Hope you enjoyed the war. Listen, about that relationship…'”

“I don’t want that, either, but you and I have been through so much. I don’t care how it began. I know we have a future together. But if you want to honor what you have with Faith, I won’t stand in the way. I’ll respect your decision whatever you do.”

Lynn sniffled and her voice broke. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“You’ll never lose me, Lynn. Come here.”

Ari looked as Lynn rose from her seat and folded herself into the other side of the booth. The other woman, Kat, put an arm around her. They rocked softly back and forth, and Kat stroked Lynn’s hair. Ari looked away and growled, “God damn it.”

The woman who had just approached paused. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Oh. Not you.”

“Oh.” She started to sit again.

“But I’m… uh, not interested. Sorry.”

The woman smiled and drifted away. Ari rested her elbows on the bar and pressed her hands against her eyes. So not only was Lynn with someone, they were in love. It wasn’t some fling. And it was up to Ari to break the news to Faith. Over the damn internet. She looked again, dropping her hands so that they covered her mouth. Lynn seemed to have fallen asleep on Kat’s chest, and Kat just kept rocking her. Ari knew she wouldn’t get that kind of comfort when she went home, and her eyes burned with tears. A phone call just wasn’t the same. She needed Dale.

And if she couldn’t magically transport Dale back from Pennsylvania, she would at least make damn sure to appreciate Dale when she got home.

#

On Sunday night, Ari was waiting in front of the computer at 10pm, per Faith’s schedule. They connected, and Faith offered her a weak smile. “Hi, Ms. Willow. I read the initial report you sent. Gotta say I’m…” Her eyes swam to one side of the monitor. “Hell, I don’t know what I am. Can’t really say I’m disappointed. Part of me expected she would move on. It’s like going to the doctor when you’re positive something is wrong. Can’t get mad when he says you have cancer, right?” She sighed. “You made it easier for me, though. I can call her and let her know that we can call it quits. No hard feelings either way.”

“I wish I’d been able to give you better news.” On Saturday afternoon she followed Lynn and her new girlfriend onto the ferry, watching from a distance as they enjoyed their day. Even though they put on a good front, everything they did had an air of unwilling finality. It was obvious they were planning to call it quits once Faith was back stateside and neither seemed too excited about the possibility.

“On the bright side, you’re saving both you and Lynn a lot of grief. If she ended things with Kat out of an obligation to you, it wouldn’t have been fun for anyone involved.”

“Yeah.” She looked down at her hands again. “And she’s happy. She wasn’t lonely while I was over here, and I’m glad for that. Thanks, Ms. Willow. Oh. You said you would email an invoice, but it hasn’t shown up yet.”

“I’ll send that in a minute. Pay when you’re able.”

She nodded. “Will do.”

“Regardless of how it turned out, it really was great to meet you, Faith. Stop by when you get back, my girlfriend and I will take you out to dinner.”

Faith smiled. “That would be really great. Thanks.”

“Stay safe.”

Faith waved goodbye and disconnected. Ari got up and went into the main office to use Dale’s computer. She had all the billing software loaded up and ready to go, so Ari methodically typed out a new invoice. Gas, plus the ferry ticket, plus the price of one drink at the sports bar and one lunch. She added a hundred dollars, well below her normal retainer, and added a note in the appropriate box that she was applying a discount for active-military. Dale usually had a fit when Ari tried to wave off payment – one of the reasons Dale was in charge of billing in the first place – but even she would approve of Ari’s decision.

She leaned back in the chair, ignoring the squeak as she turned it to look out the window. No one was on the street, but the occasional car zipped by and illuminated the fogged glass with their headlights. Ari had another case scheduled to start in the morning, but she couldn’t make herself feel excited for it. Everything felt on-hold until Dale got back, and she was starting to see it as a George Bailey/Clarence the Angel example of what her life would have been like if Dale had never saved her. She didn’t particularly like what she saw.

Though she didn’t plan to fall asleep in Dale’s chair, the lingering scent was far too powerful to ignore. She closed her eyes to enjoy it a while longer, and soon she had drifted off into a deep if not exactly comfortable slumber.

#

On Wednesday morning, Ari was at the airport a full hour before Dale’s flight was due to get in. Dale sent a text from the airport to let her know the flight would be about twenty minutes late, but Ari didn’t care. She walked inside and thought, “The next time I walk outside, Dale will be here. The next time I get in my car, Dale will be in the passenger seat.” The game made waiting almost unbearable, but somehow she managed to occupy herself until the appointed time. She made her way toward baggage claim, hands in her pockets, and paced as crowds of people swarmed and then departed. She kept turning toward the escalators and felt a sinking disappointment at just how many travelers weren’t her girlfriend.

Then without warning, one of them was. Her hair was pinned back, she was wearing glasses, and she wore a brown hoodie over a gray T-shirt, but it was her. Ari moved in her direction when Dale reached the bottom of the escalator, raising her head to scan the area. Her eyes stopped on Ari, who was now half-jogging toward her, and Dale’s lips spread into the most beautiful smile Ari had ever seen.

“It’s you,” Ari said, wrapping Dale in her arms and squeezing.

“God, you feel good,” Dale said, nuzzling Ari’s neck and holding on tight. They swayed together for a moment until Ari noticed they were blocking traffic, so she moved them two steps to the left without breaking the hug. Dale rubbed her hands in circles over Ari’s back and then kissed her both cheeks and then her lips. “Hi, sweetheart.”

“Hi. Welcome home.”

Dale smiled and bumped her forehead against Ari’s. “I told Aunt Pauline about you.”

“Did she approve?”

“She did. C’mon. Let’s get my bag.” She gripped Ari’s hand tightly and reluctantly pulled away, though neither of them let much space grow between their arms as they walked back to the carousel. Dale pointed out her bag, and Ari hauled it up off the conveyer belt. Dale snaked her arm around Ari’s waist and leaned against her as they walked toward the parking lot.

“I don’t care how complicated it is to explain. Next time you go away for a week, I’m coming with you.”

“Deal. And it shouldn’t be too hard to explain.” She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and sucked it for a moment, then looked up at Ari’s profile. “Like I said, I told Aunt Pauline about you, and she approved. And she wants to meet you. And I knew it would be hard to explain bringing my boss home for Thanksgiving, so I just went ahead and told Dad I was gay.”

Ari stopped walking, forcing Dale to step in front of her. “You told him?”

Dale’s eyes were shining. “Two days ago. I said I was in love, and that it was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And I told him how much it hurt to be away from you for even one day, and he asked when he could meet the lucky guy. So I told him that he already had, and I said it was you. It was, um, about as bad as I expected.”

Ari touched Dale’s cheek, now really and truly wishing she’d been there for support. “You didn’t say anything online.”

“I didn’t want you to worry. I knew you’d want to hug me or spoon me or something for emotional support, and I didn’t want you to feel bad that you couldn’t. Aunt Pauline held my hand, though. She got me through it.”

“How’d you leave it?”

“I was prepared to leave without saying goodbye, you know? If he can’t accept who I am, it’s his problem. But he came over to Pauline’s, and he said that there were so many things he’d wanted to apologize to Mom for, but she died before he could. He said if I got in a plane crash or got hurt out here, he didn’t want to live with any more regret. He didn’t approve, and he didn’t even claim to understand that I really am in love with you, but he said he would try. So we left it with a hug, and a possibility for acceptance in the future.”

“Amazing.” Ari kissed her. “I’m proud of you, sweetie. I know you weren’t eager to break the news to him.”

Dale tugged on Ari, and they resumed their walk toward the exit. “Before it was just a piece of information. It wasn’t necessary for him to know. But now, if he wants to know me at all, he has to know about you. You’re too big, Ari. Too much a part of my life. Not telling him was starting to feel too much like a lie.”

Ari smiled. “I’m honored. And for the record, if this week proved anything, it’s that I do not want to go back to doing this alone. I don’t want to go back to doing anything alone. I was the lone wolf for a long time, and it wasn’t working for me. I need you in my life, Dale. As much as I need the wolf, maybe more.” She kissed the top of Dale’s head.

“Same goes,” Dale whispered.

She patted her hand on Ari’s stomach and leaned hard against her as they walked out into the overcast afternoon.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/fidelity-dogs/

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