Simon was being dragged around venues for Kirsty’s reunion, but it was to be a get-together of a different kind…
“Remind me why we’re here again?”
Simon drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, peering through the windscreen at the grey drizzle and the sheep blocking the road.
“You know why,” said Kirsty.
“Organising a reunion for friends you barely keep in touch with?”
“I’m just looking for a venue,” she said patiently. “As are several other people.”
She didn’t tell him today’s destination would never actually be a contender.
“We should be searching. This is completely the wrong direction.”
“We’ll search tomorrow,” she said, crossing her fingers.
The sheep were milling, a collie busily keeping them together while the farmer opened the gate. Simon’s gaze never left the dog.
Kirsty reached for his hand. For a moment she thought he would pull away but then he relaxed.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
There was nothing Kirsty could say that hadn’t already been said. Instead, she squeezed his hand, willing the farmer and his dog away.
They’d bought their own dog, Riley as a squirming, licking, joyful puppy. But from the beginning he’d been Simon’s dog.
No kids as yet but their pampered pooch was one of the family and he loved his seaside trips to Kirsty’s parent’s static caravan, bringing his toys out to the car one by one as soon as he saw them loading up.
Six weeks ago, on one of their trips, Riley had gone missing. One minute he was there, the next he was gone.
Most of the regulars on the campsite knew him by sight but no one had seen him, not running loose and not going off with a stranger.
Hours later, when he still hadn’t turned up, panic had set in.
They’d called local vets and charities – he was micro chipped – but no luck.
Simon took a week off work to keep looking while Kirsty made flyers. And they’d been back to the caravan every weekend since – until today – with no luck.
Finally, the farmer and the dog manoeuvred the sheep through a gate. Simon started the car.
“So, where do we go from here?” The sat nav had been useless, taking them to a quarry and a dead end.
Kirsty read the directions she’d been given.
“If this is Berry Brow Lane then the turn-off isn’t far.”
Simon rolled down his window and called to the farmer. “Excuse me is this Berry Brow?”
The farmer nodded. “You’ll be looking for the pub? Straight on. They do good food there.”
Kirsty knew she couldn’t eat a bite.
“Cold?” asked Simon, seeing her shiver.
“A bit.” She was shaking. This was a gamble that could all end so badly.
Simon found the turning and pulled into a car park right at the top of the moor. On a clear day the views would be spectacular but today it was bleak.
From somewhere came the sound of dogs barking.
“I suppose it might be OK in summer,” said Simon doubtfully.
They entered the pub. The landlord stood behind the bar polishing glasses. A few locals sat nursing drinks and a couple who looked like walkers were dining by the window.
“What can I get you?” asked the landlord.
“We’re here about the reunion,” said Kirsty.
The landlord’s gaze sharpened, and he nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Out the back,” he said, indicating a stout wooden door.
Outside once more, Simon was critical. “I suppose they could have a marquee…”
Mad yapping filled the air and they both looked towards a large pen set a distance from the pub.
Inside a placid black Labrador waved her tail while half a dozen puppies scrabbled at the wire, in a frenzy of greeting.
Simon looked from the puppies to Kirsty in disbelief.
She tried to explain, but just then movement caught her eye.
Under one of the beer garden tables, a bedraggled dog raised its head. A golden retriever. It cautiously began to creep out on its belly, nose twitching.
Simon followed her gaze and paled.
“Riley?” Then, “Riley!”
Next moment man and dog were racing towards each other and Simon dropped to his knees as Riley launched joyfully into his arms.
The landlord came to stand beside Kirsty.
“As I said on the phone, he just turned up a few weeks ago. I think Bess and her pups attracted him. I’m afraid he wouldn’t be the first dog to be dumped on the moors.
“He’s so nervous I couldn’t get near him to take him to the vet to read his chip. But I searched online and found you, looking for your dog.”
“And I’m so glad you did.”
A hundred miles from where they had lost him; Kirsty hadn’t dared raise Simon’s hopes.
As Riley spotted her and barrelled towards her, Kirsty dropped to her knees for a reunion no one would ever forget.