“Sorry! Maggie, down!” said a tall man in sweatpants and hoodie as he ran to grab his dog’s collar.
“S’ok. I like dogs,” said another man who was being slobbered over by the large black lab.
“Well apparently they like you too,” said Maggie’s owner pulling her away from the bench.
“My name’s Theo,” said the man on the bench.
“I’m Mark and you’ve already met Maggie. Sorry again,” said Mark as he noticed the Maggie drool on Theo’s heavy black coat.”
“It’s really okay,” said Theo leaning forward to pet Maggie’s head.
“Well, we’d better finish our run. Have a good afternoon,” said Mark.
“You too,” said Theo leaning back on the bench and watching Mark and Maggie jog away crunching through the piles of fall leaves.
“Hi Maggie!” Mark heard and turned to see Theo on the bench where they had met him a few weeks before.
Mark slowed down and walked over so Theo could pet Maggie who immediately put her paws on the bench and started licking Theo’s unshaven face.
“Mind if we sit a minute?” Mark asked joining Theo on the bench. “Maggie and I are both kind of tired today.”
“Help yourself,” Theo said. “You know, I used to have a dog named Buddy. He was a really good boy. I miss him.”
“Dogs are pretty great, said Mark. “How long ago did you have Buddy?”
“When I was a little boy. He would play hide and seek with me. I would tell him to stay and then go hide. When I called him, he would come find me and lick my face just like Maggie.”
“I’ve had Maggie for about 11 years. I got her when I got my first apartment after college. She’s getting to be an old girl,” said Mark scratching Maggie under her chin.
“Yeah, she’s got a sugar face,” said Theo looking at the coating of white fur on her muzzle. “Did I tell you I used to have a dog named Buddy? We got him when I got married. It was my wife’s idea. She said she’d be lonely because I was working so much. We found him in the pound. He was a really good boy.”
Mark looked at Theo. “Oh you named him Buddy after the dog you had when you were little?”
“What? No. I’ve only had one dog. My parents never would have let me have a dog when I was little. My dad hated animals.” Theo turned away from Mark and Maggie and pulled his coat tightly around him. Mark noticed a big rip along a seam in the coat.
“Well, I guess we’ll head on Theo. Nice to see you again.” Theo looked down, studying the peeling green paint of the bench as Mark and Maggie took off.
“Hey Theo!” called Mark as they ran past the bench and slowed down.
“Hi Sugar face,” said Theo to Maggie as Mark let go of her leash and she ran to give him her typical full body greeting.
Mark sat down on the bench blowing in his hands to warm them. “Getting cold.”
“Yeah, probably have to head into the shelter soon. I don’t go unless it’s freezing because I don’t like all the stupid rules. But in the winter, it’s too cold to be sleeping out here.”
Mark looked closer at Theo noticing how he always wore the same worn pants. He also noticed for the first time how tired Theo looked.
“Whatever,” said Theo noticing Mark looking at him. “I’m living my life how I want to. No one is telling me what to do. Except when I have to go to the shelter but I guess that’s better than freezing to death. The only thing I miss is my dog Buddy. Did I ever tell you about my dog? When I got my first job and first apartment, I got Buddy. I had just graduated from college and was working in my first real job as an electrical engineer. Buddy was my best friend. I worked near my apartment and could come home to take Buddy for a walk during lunch. He was such a good boy.”
“He sounds like a great dog,” said Mark standing up to go. “Stay warm Theo.”
“Don’t worry about me,” said Theo smiling and giving Maggie one more pet.
“Theo! What are you doing out here? It’s freezing! Maggie and I are just doing a quick walk today since it’s so cold.”
“Hey Mark. Hey Sugar Face,” said Theo smiling. “I’m staying in the shelter mostly but still need my alone time. You know what I mean?”
“I sure do,” said Mark smiling back. “Why do you think Maggie and I are out here almost every day?”
“Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy?” asked Theo. “He was my dad’s dog. When my dad died, I took him. He was such a good boy.”
Mark was shifting his weight from foot to foot trying to stay warm. “He sounds like a nice dog,” said Mark.
“He was,” said Theo giving Maggie a hug and getting a sloppy kiss in return.
“Be careful out here Theo. It’s really, really cold!”
“I’ll head to the shelter in a little bit,” said Theo pulling a black wool hat far down over his ears.”
“See you soon.”
“See ya’. Bye Sugar Face.”
“Theo! We’ve missed you,” said Mark plopping down on the bench, Maggie drooling freely and putting her chin on Theo’s leg, her brown eyes gazing up into his.”
Theo’s face lit up. “Hey there sweet old girl,” he said. “I’ve missed you. You too of course Mark,” said Theo laughing and looking over at Mark.
Mark laughed back, “Yeah whatever. I’m forever Maggie’s sidekick. Robin to her Batman. But we’ve been worried. Haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“I got sick and spent most of the winter in the hospital. But spring has sprung and I’m all better now and glad to be out of there. Back in the fresh air.”
Mark and Theo sat, both enjoying the spring sunshine. Theo was still wearing his heavy coat although he had unzipped it. Mark could see his hat peeking out of his pocket.
“Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy?” asked Theo as they watched Maggie sniff around the bench for all those things dogs love to sniff.
Mark looked expectantly at Theo. “I found him when I was traveling across country with my son. We took a trip after my son’s senior year of high school. We traveled through the West. It was a great trip. Buddy showed up at a campsite where we were staying for a few days. We tried to find out who he belonged to but no one claimed him. So he joined us for the rest of the trip and came home with us to join our family. He was such a good dog.”
“He sounds awesome,” said Mark. “Well enjoy the sunshine Theo. See you soon.”
“See you soon,” answered Theo.
“Phew it’s hot!” said Mark joining Theo on the bench. Theo was finally without his coat but was sitting on it.
“Maggie’s moving slow,” said Theo waiting for her to join them and give him her joyous greeting.
“Here age is really catching up with her this summer. We are just doing some slow, short walks now. She loves it but just can’t make it too far. How are you doing Theo?”
“I’m great. Loving the hot weather,” said Theo. He started petting Maggie from head to toe slowly massaging her sore old muscles. “Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy? I had him when I was in college. He was a great friend and helped me stay calm when I was freaking out about my classes. He was such a good boy.”
Theo, Mark and Maggie sat for a good hour just enjoying the sun and each other’s company. When the shadows grew long, Mark said he and Maggie had better head home.
“See you soon,” said Theo giving Maggie one last pet and smiling into her sweet brown eyes.
Theo looked up as Mark joined him on their bench. Something was different. It took him a minute to figure it out while Mark sat quietly looking out into the park.
“No Maggie,” said Theo finally looking at Mark.
“No Maggie,” replied Mark quietly. “We had to put her to sleep last night.”
“That’s really sad,” said Theo.
“Yes it is,” said Mark.
“She was such a good girl,” said Theo.
“She sure was,” said Mark.
They sat quietly together for a few minutes.
“Did I ever tell you about my dog Buddy,” asked Theo.
Mark looked over at Theo and smiled, “No, I don’t think so.”
Theo’s voice floated outward to join the colorful leaves swirling in the wind.
Mark leaned back into the bench and turned his face up to catch the fading autumn sunshine.