“You should know by now, you can’t trust men, Mags,” Polly said. She’d become very anti-male since she’d broken up with her boyfriend.
I nodded in agreement.
“Nonsense,” Caroline said. “Just because one man let you down, it doesn’t make them all the same. I’d trust Mario to the ends of the earth. You just need to find the right one.”
“Even the right one can turn out to be the wrong one,” Becky said. “Caroline, you’ve only known Mario five minutes and you have no idea what he gets up to on his business trips.”
I nodded again. It was a mistake.
Caroline flew to Mario’s defence, then gathered up her bags and stalked out of the café, leaving us to pay for her skinny latte and the chocolate oatie she’d only taken one bite out of.
I couldn’t stop looking at that oatie.
“Don’t even think about it,” Polly said, whisking the plate away. “You are to stop all this comfort eating and take up an interest instead.”
I knew Caroline would be fine once she’d calmed down, but I didn’t want to upset either of the others. They were my friends and had been for years.
They’d rallied round after my marriage broke up, but it had been a year now and I didn’t really want to leave the safety of my rut.
I was quite happy there, feeling sorry for myself and going over the past few years wondering what I’d done wrong.
“You should get a cat,” Polly said. “A cat will teach you everything you need to know about being independent.”
“A dog would be better,” Becky said. “At least you’d get out and about with a dog. Now you work from home, you needn’t worry about leaving it.”
“I don’t want a cat or a dog,” I said. “I’m happy as I am.”
The two of them looked at me just as Caroline swept back into the café, plonked herself back down and polished off the rest of her chocolate oatie.
“What have I missed?” she said.
“Mags should get a cat,” Polly said.
“Or a dog,” Becky said.
“Oh, how lovely,” Caroline said.
“I’m not getting a pet,” I said. “Any pet. Or a man. I’m happy as I am.”
Running my finger round my plate, picking up the last of the crumbs, I considered getting another slice of cake.
I was already a full stone heavier than I was a year ago and my self-confidence had ebbed away.
When I looked up at the three concerned faces of my dearest friends, I burst into tears.
Becky knew someone who had a litter of gundogs.
“I don’t want a gundog,” I said. “I’m not interested in all that hunting and shooting malarkey.”
“Oh, you! Adam’s not a breeder and he’s not interested in that hunting and shooting malarkey either.”
So we went off to see Adam and view the puppies.
He was really nice with very long legs and windswept black hair. Not that I was looking, you understand, but you would have had to have a bag over your head not to notice how strikingly good looking he was.
The mother of the pups was a black Labrador, a beautiful gentle dog who seemed keen to show off her litter – while the father, a springer spaniel, just wanted to show off himself.
Look at me! he seemed to say as he bounced round, poking me with his nose and offering his paw – which actually was a little like what Becky was doing around Adam!
I was glad Caroline wasn’t there to see it. She’d gone off on Mario’s latest business trip with him, but if she saw what was going on here, she’d have had Adam and Becky off up the aisle before you could say, That puppy is chewing my trousers.
“I’m going to keep two of the puppies,” Adam said. “They’re beautiful dogs from wonderful parents. I’d keep all six if I could,” he added wistfully.
“But I’m never doing this again. It’s so hard to part with them.”
His beautiful eyes shimmered and I was nearly blown over in the breeze from Becky’s fluttering eyelashes.
“They’ll make fantastic companion dogs,” he added.
I’d already chosen my puppy by then; a sweet little red pup with a white blaze on his chest, two white paws and white at the tip of his tail.
“Isn’t he gorgeous?” Becky said as I drove away.
“He is,” I said. “I can’t wait to get him home and start training him.”
“Er – I was talking about Adam,” she said.
“I thought you were off men.”
“Me?” she said innocently. “Where on earth did you get that idea?”
She came back with me on my visits to see my pup. I’d decided to call him Buddy, since that was what he was going to be.
It was Caroline who came with me to pick Buddy up, since Becky was already there.
“He’s a bit gorgeous, isn’t he?” Caroline said as I drove home and she held on to the puppy.
“You must be gutted that Becky snapped him up.”
“He’s lovely, but he’s not my type,” I said.
I was pleased to see Becky so happy to be honest, but I was also a little concerned. Gorgeous as he was, Adam left me cold.
I wondered if I’d ever feel anything for anyone ever again.
Caroline sighed. “I’m not sure Mario’s my type any more. I’ve got an itch, Mags, one I don’t know how to scratch. What do you think I should do?”
This was a turn up. Usually my friends told me what to do. I was unused to being asked for advice, particularly this past year.
“Do what makes you happy, Caroline,” I said.
“What would really make me happy is to see the world,” she said.
The next time I took Buddy out in the car, it was to drive to the vet for his vaccinations. Polly volunteered to come with me.
As I parked, one of the vets jumped out of the pet ambulance and loped into the surgery with a basket full of kittens in his arms.
Polly’s eyes were out on stalks. “Oh, how adorable!”
“You’re not thinking of getting a kitten, are you?”
“I wasn’t talking about the kittens…”
“Polly! What’s happened to you?”
But she was already going into the surgery like she was in some kind of trance.
She gazed adoringly at the admittedly hunky vet when we took Buddy in to see him.
What was it with my friends and good looking animal-loving men?
“He’s probably married or engaged or spoken for or something,” she said as I drove us home.
She’d picked up one of their practice leaflets which had a picture of Guy, the vet, in cycling gear about to set off on a five hundred mile ride to raise money for a pet charity.
“Ooh, it says they need a new receptionist – I think I’ll apply!”
I laughed. I thought she was joking.
She wasn’t. A month later she was dating Guy who wasn’t married, engaged or spoken for.
She didn’t get the receptionist job, but she’d never really wanted it.
The upshot to all this was that my friends were all too busy to worry about me, and besides, I was busy too, raising Buddy.
I couldn’t believe how much all our lives changed in the year that followed.
Becky moved in with Adam and his dogs, and Polly and Guy announced their engagement and their intention to have a home bursting at the seams with children and pets.
Caroline meanwhile had finished with Mario and gone off to be an air stewardess, travelling the world and enjoying a global adventure.
As for me… well, I had Buddy, my beautifully behaved and perfectly well trained dog.
I’m sure dogs never used to be teenagers in the old days.
They were puppies, had a few accidents in the house, chewed the occasional shoe, cried when you went out, then they turned into adults and everything was tickety-boo.
So it had been with Buddy.
He was a naughty pup. There wasn’t a cushion in the house without at least one corner chewed, all the shoes bore tooth marks and the lawn had more holes than a tea strainer.
But by summer I realised I had a perfectly well behaved almost-adult dog and patted myself on the back.
Buddy had stopped digging holes and chewing things and I couldn’t remember the last time he’d had an accident indoors.
I watched smugly as other dog owners chased their errant pooches round the field, trying to tempt them with treats, then threatening them with all sorts when treats didn’t work.
Then suddenly, one winter’s day when snow was falling and my ankles were frozen, it all fell apart.
Buddy’s rebellious streak surfaced.
I called him as usual and instead of coming back, he pranced round just out of reach.
I offered him a treat and he skipped away. I threw it to the ground just between us and he ignored it as it sank into the snow.
I’d had dogs before. So I knew all the tricks. I turned round and ran in the opposite direction. He followed, but not close enough for me to catch him.
I told him to sit. He ignored me.
I ran backwards and ended up flat on my back in the snow.
By now I was cross. Not just about Buddy acting up, but about everything.
I was over John, but I’d gained a delinquent dog and lost my three best friends. It was as if once I had Buddy, they’d washed their hands of me.
Guy had whipped Polly off to an ice hotel in Sweden, while Becky had gone off in a camper somewhere with Adam and the dogs.
I wasn’t sure where Caroline was… last I heard she was in the Maldives. She’d posted photos of herself on Facebook in a bikini saying, “It’s a hard life.”
Now look at me. While she was sprawled on a beach, I was sprawled in the snow with my supposedly best friend laughing at me.
Then I remembered a trick I’d seen another dog walker use.
I jumped to my feet, whirled Buddy’s lead in my hand and it went spinning through the air, landing in the snow.
The noise was supposed to get the dog’s attention and make them focus on you, but obviously no-one had ever told Buddy that.
As the lead went the same way as the dog treat, Buddy ran away and did a victory circuit of the field.
Trying to find that lead was like trying to find… well, a lead in a snowdrift. So now I had a dog I couldn’t catch and no lead to put him on even if I did manage to.
My fingers were raw. I couldn’t feel my feet. My nose was glowing like a beacon. And to cap it all, I slipped over.
Buddy was curious enough to come closer for a look, but not close enough for me to grab him.
“Are you all right?”
All I could see was a pair of eyes. The rest of the man was hidden by clothing suitable for Arctic weather.
I, on the other hand, had believed the weather forecaster who said this morning that it would be cloudy, but it wouldn’t snow.
He was accompanied by two extremely well behaved collies.
It was too much for Buddy. He bowled over to say hello and the guy grabbed his collar.
“I’ve lost his lead,” I muttered.
“No problem, you can borrow one of mine. Hilda and Betty don’t need leads.”
“How old is he?” he asked.
“Ah, adolescent,” he said. “The girls went through a bit of a stage at that age. He’ll grow out of it. Just keep on with the training.”
I didn’t need advice, thank you, but I was a little reassured that his dogs had done the same thing.
He clipped the lead to Buddy’s collar, helped me to my feet, then winked and strode off.
I watched him go. He was tall – and strong; he’d hauled me to my feet effortlessly. True, since I’d had Buddy I’d lost that stone of comfort eating weight, but even so, he didn’t have to brace himself or anything.
I had no idea what colour his hair was or even if he had any. And he could have a bushy beard under that scarf.
But he had nice eyes. Very nice eyes. And his dogs obviously adored him.
Still, he was probably married or engaged or spoken for or something.
Not that I was going to go the way of my friends, falling for an animal-loving man – or any man for that matter. That would be just plain silly.
Yet while Adam and Guy had left me cold, this man’s eyes had set my heart fluttering…
“Your lead…” I called.
“Give it to me next time you see me,” he said. “I’m here this time every day.”
The trouble was, I wasn’t. Not usually. The only reason I was, was because Buddy wouldn’t come back. Normally I’d have been back at home.
Of course, I’d have to give the bloke his lead back, but then I wouldn’t have to see him again. Ever.
The eyes thing was a fluke. There was no way I was actually attracted to him.
Wrapped up well, the four of us sat outside the café. Caroline was home for a few days before she was due to jet off to Brazil and we’d all managed to meet up.
“You should know by now, love makes the world go round,” Polly said. She’d become very pro-male since she’d taken up with Guy.
“Nonsense,” Caroline said. “Who needs men?
“I’m having the time of my life going all round the world doing what makes me happy.”
“Well, I only know I’d be lost without Adam,” Becky said.
I nodded again.
“You’re nodding a lot,” Polly said and her eyes narrowed. “And not saying much. And you look different. Have you met someone?”
Well, there’s nothing more boring than someone going on about their love life – or lack of it – but there’s nothing better than sharing happy news.
“His name is George,” I said. “He has two collies and I just can’t wait for you all to meet him.”
He’d been there waiting for me in the snow when I returned his lead and we’d ended up walking together.
The odd thing was, Buddy was perfectly well behaved, coming back when called and none of this messing about.
I thought it was the good influence of George’s dogs rubbing off on him.
Or maybe he was just calmer and happier, knowing I was the same.
Because, miraculously, I was.
And it wasn’t just his eyes. I nodded dreamily to myself. The rest of him was gorgeous too.
We’re publishing a new doggy-themed short story from our archives every Monday and Thursday throughout September. Look out for the next one!