Jenny slammed her front door, signalling the end of a budding relationship. She blew her nose.
“Paul doesn’t understand,” she complained as Will hurried to reassure her. She cupped his grizzled face and gazed into his big brown eyes. “Men really are hopeless.”
“Woof,” Will said, his sympathy half a bark, half a throaty rumble.
She’d thought Paul was different. He’d sized Will up with a tilt of his head the first time they’d met.
“Dogs sense things,” he said, studying Will carefully.
Will sized him up, too. Lanky, long face, crooked nose, wearing a dirty overall covered in paint. Well, Paul had been hired to decorate the house.
His looks didn’t matter a jot to Will. The old dog edged closer and stared into his eyes.
“Does he want to haggle over my prices?” Paul asked uneasily. Then, trying to be chatty, “How old is he?”
“Twelve,” Jenny replied. “I found him in a rescue centre after I…”
…Had my heart broken.
Paul took his cue from Will. The old dog flopped down. So Paul, who likely thought he was too work-soiled for the sofa, flopped down right next to him.
“After you what?” he prompted Jenny, before taking a sip from the mug of coffee she’d made for him.
“Well…” she began. “You see, my dad left when I was tiny. Mum worked all hours. I spent most of my childhood with various aunts being shunted back and forth.
“Only I never felt a single one of them really wanted me around.
“I was so lonely. Right up until I met my very first boyfriend, Lee, at school. We grew up together. We went through the whole childhood sweetheart thing. I thought we’d be together forever.
“Only then we went to different universities and when he came home he brought… Clare… with him.
“He hadn’t told me.”
She’d never felt so betrayed. She’d felt as if she was drowning in her own bitter tears.
The one person she thought she’d always be able to trust had turned out to be a liar.
“I moved out of Mum’s house not long afterwards. I rented this place. It’s a bit of a wreck but I know the landlord and he’s been doing the place up slowly.
The only thing I didn’t like about it was being alone. So I decided to get a dog. I mean, I work in a pet shop. A dog fits in really well there.” She smiled.
“I think Will picked me in the end, as if he knew how much I needed him.”
Paul peered thoughtfully at Will’s greying muzzle.
“So… he helped you mend your broken heart?”
Her landlord’s painter and decorator was very perceptive, it seemed. Her ex would likely have looked cynical at this point while Paul just nodded.
“Good for him. And good for you too.”
“Oh, that’s not the only time Will helped me out,” Jenny told him. “That was just the first.”
At this point her ex would certainly have interrupted and starting talking about his plans for the day… the week… the year.
Paul sat studying Will’s stoical face instead. “Tell me more.”
“Well, there was the time we got caught in a storm. We were both getting drenched so I decided on a short cut down a farm track.
“I let Will off the lead, he loves the fields round there. Only, when he’d disappeared I noticed a shadow on the track behind me.”
She explained how many times she’d glanced back to the darkness under the trees. It was a man, hunched in a dripping raincoat.
How the hairs on her neck had risen when he’d eased out from under the shadows.
“I called Will back,” she said. “Knowing he might be half a field away by then.
“It was only when the man was close enough to touch that Will came charging through a gap in the hedge. He barked and his hackles went up.
“The man asked me for the time then. You know, to look less suspicious.
“I told him and he backed away but still Will followed him down the track, keeping himself between us, just in case.”
She shivered at the memory. How bravely Will had guarded her.
Her ex would have scratched his head at this point.
So what you’re saying is, a man asked for the time and you panicked? Not every man walking by is suspicious, you know.
Paul nodded sagely instead.
“What a good boy.” He smiled at Will. Will smiled a doggy grin back, lying still and letting his ears be tickled. “What a brave dog, looking after Jenny like that.”
“That’s not all,” Jenny went on remembering precisely how her ex’s eyes rolled when he didn’t really want her to go on with another of her stories. “Will actually saved my life once.”
Paul blinked. “How?”
“Well, we’d gone for this really long trek in the country. Will got a thorn stuck in his paw.
“I pulled it out but he was still limping pretty badly so when we came to a bus stop, I waited. I thought we’d get the bus home to save his poor foot.
“Only he wouldn’t have it. He dragged me down the verge and kept right on going.”
It was a summer’s day. The air hung thick with midges and flies between the hedges, she recalled. There wasn’t a soul about.
Will’s urgency had frightened her. The whites of his eyes showed, every glance back down the road just making him drag her along faster and faster.
“After we’d turned a corner we heard this awful crash,” she told Paul. “We ran back to see what it was.
“A car had crashed into the bus stop, right there where I’d been standing.
“The driver was fine but… but I wouldn’t have been.”
It was just a coincidence, her ex would have said blithely at the end of her tale. I bet Will saw a rabbit. That was all. He didn’t really save you.
Paul nodded gravely as Will licked his hand.
“I’m glad he’s taking care of you,” he said. “Do you think he likes me?”
“I think he might like you a lot.”
Paul was around for the next few weeks working on the house. The kitchen was painted and papered, then the hall, followed by the bedrooms.
He sweetly volunteered to take Will on the short walks the vet had recommended since Will’s arthritis had set in.
Paul didn’t even chuckle when he found Jenny massaging the old dog’s front legs and shoulders one afternoon.
He just said, “I love the way you look after him.” Then he’d pitched in himself.
A few days after that, Will’s vet suggested surgery and booked him in.
On her Will-less day, Jenny wandered around pale-faced, circling her little house like a lost waif.
“He’s only having a few teeth out,” Paul said as he eased paint across the lounge door with his brush.
Jenny wrung her hands together.
“He has to have an anaesthetic. He’s such an old dog now. I don’t even know how old in human years.”
“He’s eighty-nine,” Paul said, growing pale himself as he worked. “I looked it up the other day. A dog his size would be that old.
“Do you want me to call the surgery, see how things are going?”
Will weaved like a drunk when he came home. Jenny held back tears, watching him slump down by the fire.
“Do you want me to stay a while?” Paul offered. “You know there’s no one at home to miss me.”
“He’ll sleep it off,” Paul added gently. “He’ll be fine.”
“Course… he’s Will. Strong and reliable. He’ll always be fine.”
Yet Paul’s forlorn expression, she noticed, said otherwise.
You know he won’t be, don’t you? she thought. He won’t be fine forever.
Jenny dozed on the sofa right next to Will for the next few nights.
Poor boy, he couldn’t manage the stairs any more. He couldn’t sleep by her bedside as he used to.
He normally barked when the doorbell rang, but on Saturday morning he just gazed at the door solemnly.
Jenny stretched herself awake.
“It’s just Paul come to check on us,” she told him, frowning as Will gazed up at her anxiously. “What’s the matter?”
Of course, he couldn’t warn her.
Outside on the pavement Paul stood with his hands wrapped around a scruffy little puppy. It wriggled in his arms and wagged its tail.
“Look what I’ve got for you,” he said with a huge grin.
Jenny went cold with shock.
“How could you?” she blurted. “How could you do that? How could you be so thoughtless?”
That’s when she’d slammed the door in his face.
“Jenny, listen to me. Please,” came Paul’s muffled protests. “Jenny, please, open the door.”
The puppy yapped, Paul rang the bell over and over but she ignored them both.
Finally silence fell.
“Now in her lounge, she lifted Will’s head and looked into his cloudy eyes. The old dog’s brows dipped and he pulled away, hauling himself to his feet.
He ambled to the front door and stood in front of it.
“Yes, we’ll go for a walk. Yes. You want me to feel better. I know.”
She fetched her coat and his lead. She opened the door.
Paul still sat on the step with his little friend. He scrambled to his feet.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said in a rush. “I’m not trying to replace Will for you… honestly. It’s not like that. Will did it.
“I took him to the rescue centre. I only went to take in a donation, but Will stood by one of the pens where this puppy was.
“He refused to move. He just stared and stared at the puppy.
“You know he senses these things, don’t you? It’s as if he… picked his own apprentice.”
She stared at Paul, dumbfounded.
“Will picked another dog for me?”
Paul nodded, holding out the wriggling puppy. He really was just a scrappy, skinny ball of fur, not pretty or fluffy or even cute.
But he’ll never ignore me or betray me, Jenny thought.
Had Will really chosen a successor?
Paul stood by with such a hopeful expression on his face.
Not the best-looking man. Not the smartest dresser, just a scrappy, untidy thing himself, really.
“Are you sure that Will only picked one apprentice?” she asked him softly. “Doesn’t he have two of those now?”
Paul blinked at her.
“Well… yes,” he said. “He does, if you want him to?”
Her ex would have had hysterics.
Are you insane, Jenny? Sane people don’t think their dogs are sending silent messages. They don’t think they match-make either. What does an old dog know about relationships?
More than you ever did, Jenny thought, as Paul leaned close and kissed her. He’s taught me everything I need to know about true love.
We’re publishing another lovely dog-themed story from our archives on our website every Monday and Thursday during September