Barney’s paws were pressed against the sidelight. Drool and condensation made it hard to see his face, but Lena could imagine the conflict in those big amber eyes. He wanted to bark. He was not allowed to bark. He made a soft, beseeching growl and licked the glass.
“We should go inside,” she whispered, stroking David’s cheek with her thumb.
He pulled her closer, roughly, so she tumbled against his body. “I was worried.”
“I know. I’m okay. See?” She freed herself and stood with a spokesmodel flourish, staggering just a little as she turned. The black lab dropped to all fours. A forbidden claw scraped the door as he descended. “This isn’t fair to Barney, David. He’s been inside all morning.”
David didn’t speak. He looked at Selena with her desperate smile and trembling hands and felt like this couldn’t be real. Like the strain of their fight, and the tension on the mountain, and his flat-out run to get here had separated reality into one glistening globe and he was stuck beyond it. The dog danced out and gave David a slobbery kiss hello before pissing against the siding.
“Not so close to the house, Barn,” Lena chided from the mudroom, just inside the threshold. Barney huffed, grabbed a mouthful of David’s pantleg and dragged it toward the door. “You don’t want to play outside?” False cheer cracking her voice. Barney planted his hind feet next to hers and pulled harder.
Her husband sat where he had fallen and began speaking so quietly she had to move closer to hear. “When I met you, I thought you’d been hit by a car. Did you know that? I had this whole scenario worked out about finding the guy that didn’t see you crossing and beat him, or something. All ninety pounds of me, right?” He laughed, joylessly.
“Don’t say it. You’re not okay, Selena. Don’t insult me like that, anymore.” He glared at her stricken face, at her hands clenched tight at her sides. Barney’s growls escalated around the shredding denim, the whites of his eyes exposed.
“You knew.” David hissed, and she stepped back as though slapped. “You knew and you said nothing! You gave me no chance to protect you.”
“I didn’t want-”
“What? To frighten me? To make me worry? You’ve been walking around like a fucking ghost for months!” The jeans cuff fragmented as Barney fell back on his haunches. Hackles rough between his shoulders, he closed his teeth over David’s boot and tried again.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, David. God, I’m so sorry. Please, I just didn’t want any of this to touch you. I thought if I shut you out of that part of my life-”
“You are my life. THIS IS MY LIFE!” Barney dropped the foot and began barking, his gaze fixed on the swath of forest beyond their squat garage.
David stood, shoved past the anxious dog, and slammed the door behind him. “Who is it, Selena? Who is coming after you?”
© Desi S. Valentine, 2012