[Editor’s Note – This column originally ran on the site on April 17, 2013.]
While all of the other dogs around him in the Davidson Dog Park frolicked and played, Cuddles McGee sat transfixed by something off in the distance. As the little pug stared, his tongue hanging ever so slightly out of the corner of his mouth (which, sadly, was a facial tick far beyond his control), a tennis ball bounced gingerly off his ear. He barely noticed.
A second later, Frankie the French bulldog wobbled his way up to Cuddles. He gestured toward the tennis ball at Cuddles’ feet.
“A little help, man?” he said.
Cuddles turned slowly and stared at Frankie with a puzzled expression on his smushed face. Then he glanced at the tennis ball in front of him and nudged it toward Frankie with his nose.
“You can’t keep doing this to yourself,” Frankie said. “Every day you sit in this spot with that moon pie look on your face. Either go talk to her or just let her go. You’re bumming the rest of us out sitting here with that sad sack expression. So either walk over there, sniff her butt and say hello or come play catch with me.”
Cuddles sighed. “You make it sound so easy.”
“That’s because it is easy, McGee. You’re just making it difficult.”
But Cuddles knew in his heart that it wasn’t that simple. As Frankie picked up the tennis ball and sauntered back over to his owner, Cuddles brought his gaze back to Petunia. She was a thing of beauty – a Bichon Frise with immaculately white fur who projected grace and beauty with every gentile step. With the little pink bow atop her head and the perfect way she held up her chin as she walked, she could have been a show dog. Should have been one. But instead she was here in the dog park, playfully chasing butterflies.
Cuddles almost talked to her once. It was the first day he ever laid eyes on her. He would have summoned up the courage to say hello, but it was Halloween and Cuddles’ owner, in her infinite wisdom, had dressed him in a ridiculous bee costume. With his tiny torso covered in yellow and black stripes and those ludicrous antennae dangling over his eyes, he could hardly go introduce himself then. What kind of first impression would that make?
Every day after that, he continued to make excuses. There was the one day that she stood a mere two feet away from him in a soft patch of grass, but it had been a week since he had last been bathed and he was feeling self-conscious. And there was the day his owner walked him right behind her, but how could he talk to her with that ridiculous pink leash fastened to his collar?
Months had passed without a single word uttered between them. More silent months were likely to come. She was probably seeing someone anyway. And even if she wasn’t, what would she want with a scrappy mutt like him?
Cuddles lay out on the ground, his belly and his chin pressed against the lush grass. He watched Petunia as her owner rubbed under her chin and patted her head. Cuddles glanced back at his own owner, who was lost in the latest Stephenie Meyer novel, only stopping every few pages to glance at Cuddles to make sure he was still in sight. He looked back over to Petunia and waited patiently for courage to suddenly find him or for some sign from the heavens that he should approach her.
Suddenly, as if on cue, the heavens opened up and unleashed a vicious, angry storm. It came out of nowhere – the once sunny skies were suddenly dark and gray. Dogs and people scrambled to find cover. Cuddles’ owner scooped him up and took him under an awning, her VW Beetle too far away to reach without getting absolutely soaked. In the chaos, he lost sight of Petunia.
Other dogs and their people found their way under the awning as well. Within a few minutes, it was packed. Cuddles stared out into the heavy rain, wondering what happened to his beautiful Petunia.
The pug was jolted back to reality when he felt a cold, wet nose sniffing around his backside. He spun his head around to see a mangy, mud-soaked ball of wet fur behind him.
“Hi,” the muddy dog said, “I’m Petunia.”
Cuddles wondered if this was some dog’s idea of a cruel joke. He was about to ask if Frankie put her up to this when he looked closely at her and saw the little pink bow, now encrusted in mud, perched atop her head. It was Petunia. And she was an absolute mess.
“I’m Cuddles,” he said, finally summoning the courage he had desperately hoped was inside him. “Nice to meet you, Petunia.”
“Sorry you are seeing me like this,” she said, “I’m sure I’m a disaster. I probably look as ridiculous as you did in that silly little bee costume.”
His heart stopped. “You remember that?”
“How could I forget?” she replied. “It’s not every day you see a handsome dog dressed like a bumblebee.”
Cuddles felt embarrassed. All of his words rushed out of him. He desperately struggled to think of a reply.
“To be totally honest, I was a bit jealous. My owner always has me looking so proper and perfectly brushed. I wish I could just cut loose every once in a while instead of always having to look so perfect,” Petunia said.
“Yes, silly. In fact, if I’m being totally honest, being covered in mud like this is the most fun I’ve had in months. The mud on my fur feels amazing.”
And that’s when Cuddles noticed that, in their scramble to get under cover, neither one of their owners had secured them with leashes.
“So let’s get muddy then,” Cuddles said. Then he playfully nipped at her nose before running off into the pouring rain. With their owners dourly chasing behind them in the storm, Cuddles and Petunia jumped into every puddle they could find, gleefully wrestling around as the mud and rain covered every inch of their fur.
It only lasted a few minutes before their owners scooped them up and whisked them off to their cars. But those few minutes had been the happiest ones of Cuddles’ life. He was in such a state of bliss that he barely heard the stern lecture he got from his owner on the ride back to her apartment.
Luckily, Cuddles’ owner wasn’t one to hold a grudge. The next day, she jangled her keys and excitedly announced they were heading to the dog park. Cuddles scurried off to the closet to fetch his leash. But as he entered the closet, something else caught his eye and he grabbed that in his mouth instead. He brought it to his owner’s feet.
“You bee costume? Really Cuddles?” his owner said with a laugh. “Okay fine, let’s get it on you, you silly dog.”
Artwork by Jane Wynn
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.